§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The first Amendment selected is the second one in page 1, line 11, and I think that it would be convenient to discuss with it the fifth Amendment, in page 1, line 11, at the end to insert:(2) Such terms shall include provision for the distribution by the company of any profits made by the company in such manner that an equitable share of the profits shall accrue to the Minister.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
Perhaps I may say, Sir Gordon, how much I agree with your Ruling. It would, indeed, be very convenient to discuss these two Amendments together.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, at the end to insert:Provided that such terms shall provide that if the security for the said advances takes the form of a debenture of the company it shall he convertible into ordinary shares of the company at the option of the Minister and on such conditions and at such times as the Minister may consider right and equitable.For the benefit of those who are within two yards of me, and can hear what I am saying, I want, first, to refer to the speech made on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). He then said:We have, also, our strong objection to the financial provisions of the Bill, as we consider them to be an unjustifiable betrayal of the public interest in favour of private industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 941.]That is our view, and the purpose of these two Amendments is to attempt, in a small way, to improve the financial provisions of this Measure.
The Amendment that I have just moved seeks, very shortly, to provide for a convertible debenture. The other Amendment goes a little wider, and seeks to provide for the possibility of an 674 option to take up an interest in the profits, in one form or another, at a later stage—or, indeed, at an intermediate stage—or, indeed, at a very early stage, and as soon as it is thought fit so to do.
The Government must presumably regard this as a potentially profitable venture. They would net, of course, be proposing to the Committee that this substantial sum of money should be lent unless they felt that there was, at all events, a possibility of profit; otherwise, there would not be a chance of the money which is the subject of the loan being returned.
We must, therefore, work on that assumption in dealing with these Amendments. It is true that the Minister, and presumably the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, are virtually alone in taking this view, but that does not detract from the Minister's courage. He has a very strong precedent indeed for going ahead with launching a vessel notwithstanding that everyone around him criticises him and thinks differently. So far as my recollection goes, Noah was in exactly the same position. All his friends assailed him and took the view that it was an entirely unwise step and an unnecessary investment, but he paid no attention to them and proved to be right.
Of course, that was in the days before the meteorological reports and no one could advise him what the experience would be, so he carried on. It is true that he had a little difficulty and at one time had to send out a flying dove to ascertain whether the runways were waterlogged, or if he could touch down. Who knows, the position might arise in future when history will repeat itself. We might then have a flying dove in the form of an "Eagle" discovering that the runways are waterlogged.
We must go on the basis that this is a potentially profitable venture and, therefore, deal with it with a view to the taxpayer getting a reasonable deal. En a transaction of this kind, where a substantial sum of money is being loaned—where £18 million is being loaned and the company is starting with £12 million, that is to say, 150 per cent. of the share capital is to be borrowed from the taxpayer—it is perfectly natural and normal that there should be a share of the profits available to the lender of the money.
675 If I have to prove that it is perfectly natural and normal to do that, I refer the Committee to what was said in the debate on Second Reading about comment in The Times. There was a report by its shipping correspondent in The Times on 1st July, 1959, which stated:Either the Government could build the ships and let the Cunard manage them, or a new company could be set up with Cunard and the Government sharing the equity.That is precisely what is happening. A separate company is being used as a vehicle for receiving the working capital by way of loan capital and there is to be an appropriate method of managing and accounting to the Government. It will be free from the complications of outside interests of any kind, a perfectly simple vehicle. There is no earthly reason why there should not be a share of the equity, as The Times suggested.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Financial Times said, on 6th June, 1960:If there is a prospect of a profit why should not the Government participate in the equities? … A change of plan here would go a long way to allaying any public disquiet which may develop in the matter.Public disquiet has developed in the matter, very considerable disquiet inside and outside the House, both here among Members of Parliament and in a meeting of members of the Cunard Company.
I am demonstrating that the normal expectation, as shown by very responsible organs of the Press, is that there should be a share in the equity going to the taxpayer who is lending the money. If this money had been borrowed, not from the taxpayer but in the City in the ordinary financial way, there would have been no chance whatsoever of getting the money without a share in the equity. My right hon. Friend has already referred to what happened in regard to F.C.I., a body which deals with large investments. I also refer to I.F.S.C., Industrial and Finance Corporation Ltd., which is its sister organisation dealing with smaller amounts.
If one looks at the latest report of I.F.S.C., which came out only a few days ago, one finds that in the year ended March, 1961, as in all previous years, a little over 40 per cent. of the advances have taken the form of holdings of equity in one form or another, 676 redeemable preference shares, non-redeemable preference shares and ordinary shares. Nearly one-half of the total advances by this corporation, which exists for advancing money where the banks would not consider it favourable for bank lending, takes the form of a share in the equities. It is absolutely clear that an organisation of that kind, if approached for a loan like this, would not for a second consider advancing money without a share in the equity.
We are getting to the stage where public opinion, informed public opinion and commercial practice are all pointing to one thing—that there should be a share in the equity. What are the arguments against it? The Minister has, of course, given us the benefit of his views. In that succinct, objective, clear approach with which he always describes one half of the story, during the course of the Second Reading debate he said:It has been suggested that the Government should take an equity interest in the new company, but we do not want to expose the taxpayers' money to any greater degree of risk than is necessary to secure the Government's object, which is the continuation of this service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 923.]There is nothing in what I am saying which wouldexpose the taxpayers' money to any greater degree of risk.The Minister knows full well that a convertible debenture such as that referred to in these Amendments, which was the basis of the suggestion on Second Reading, is not an alternative. It is not a question of taking an additional risk, but a question of an additional right which the lender gets in consideration of making the loan. This is a very substantial, totally disproportionate loan. The Government are making a very substantial loan and are entitled, as the lender, to the additional right—as any other lender in a commercial transaction of this kind—to a share in the equity of the company.
This does not mean any risk at all. The convertible debenture which is the essence of the first Amendment means that at some stage or other, determined by the conditions of the debenture itself, the Government will say either as to the whole or part of the debenture, "We now feel that this new company is doing very well. We should like to take our 677 reward for having taken a very great risk in putting up the £18 million and convert one part of it"—£8 million, £2 million, the whole of it as the case may be—"into ordinary shares and to get a large return on those shares".
The Government could postpone that decision. They do not have to make the decision until all uncertainty as to whether the debenture will be profitable or not has been removed. They can take this money back and do not have to exercise the option. If they feel that it would be unwise in the light of events five or ten years ahead they can postpone the decision until it is time to receive repayment of the money. There is no question whatever of taking any additional risk. It is merely getting the rights which any normal borrower in this kind of transaction would get, and which the Government are denying the taxpayers, and they are seeking the assistance of the Committee in the denial.
Therefore, summing up this argument, it is not customary in ordinary commercial circles to put up 60 per cent. of the total cash of the company and draw nothing at any time of the profits. If the view is taken that it is absolutely certain that the company will make a loss, the Government would deal with it as a matter of subsidy and not a matter of loan. If the profits are to be certain, we ought to share in them. If there is some uncertainty, as there is in the present position, about the likely outcome of the company, the taxpayers should have the same right as an ordinary commercial vendor to take up an option in the shares of the company in some form or another in order to share in the profit if one is made and to regain his money if no profit, or no substantial profit, is made.
I repeat that there is no risk involved. It is purely a question of an additional right, and it is normal commercial practice, which is being denied by the Government in this case unless an Amendment on the lines of ours is accepted.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I do not think that I have ever heard the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) so enchantingly ingenuous. He is a distinguished practitioner; he gives financial advice to clients. For the sake of his own future 678 progress in the profession in which he is so distinguished an ornament, I sincerely hope that he will not send his clients, actual and potential, copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the speech which he has just made.
When I saw the Amendment I came to the conclusion that it was a vehicle on which to hang a very interesting argument about whether or not the Government should in any circumstances take an interest in private enterprise in the shape of equity share capital. That is not what the Amendment says. It goes very much further than that. It says that the debenture, if it is issued, shall be convertibleon such conditions and at such times as the Minister may consider right and equitable.It seemed to me that perhaps this saw its inception in "Signpost to the Sixties" a document which, I understand, has been published today, and which is somewhat vague but which leaves the way open to the Labour Party to nationalise such industries as it may wish to nationalise without actually having the courage to say so.
The Amendment, should my right hon. Friend be so unwise as to accept it—I am sure that he will not—would be a magnificent way of implementing the vagueness in "Signpost to the Sixties". If the Amendment were included in the Bill, all that my right hon. Friend would have to do in due course—as the hon. Gentleman said, that might be very soon indeed—would be to lay down as terms and conditions that each £1 of the debentures shall be converted into 100 ordinary shares, which would give the Government complete control of the new company, and, I would think, operative control of the Cunard-White Star Line as a whole.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might modify his argument and take it a little away from what seemed to me to be the completely nonsensical. I cannot imagine him giving any such advice to any of his clients. If he did, they would sack him and would not employ him again.
The hon. Gentleman said that presumably the Government regard the venture as a potentially profitable one. I should have thought that, in the circumstances of the case, what the Government should look for was security of capital 679 and early repayment rather than risk capital. I was not here for the Second Reading debate, but I have read at least twice—some parts three times—with great interest the speech made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). I agree with most of what he said. I think that this has been an exceedingly difficult decision for the Government to make. I think that they have made just about the right decision, but there has not been a very great margin.
The hon. Member for Gloucester is, after all, on the same side of the House of Commons as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. The hon. Member for Gloucester wants the Government to take an equity interest in the company. Yet on 1st May the right hon. Member for Vauxhall—I do not contradict anything that he said—stated:According to that same source, during last year the number of air passengers rose to nearly 2 million while the number of sea passengers crossing the North Atlantic dropped to 866,000.I do not quarrel with that.
In the next column the right hon. Gentleman said:One must therefore accept the fact that the chances of increasing the number of passengers on ships crossing the Atlantic in the next twenty years or so are very bleak indeed.I do not quarrel with that. Later in that column the right hon. Gentleman said:… why should not the State participate in those profits?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 932–9.]As the right hon. Gentleman spent most of his speech indicating that there would be no profit at all, it seemed somewhat illogical to suggest in the same breath that the Government should take a share in profits which he does not think will accrue.
I think that, in principle, the Government have come to the right decision. It would be out of order for me, on this Amendment, to give my reasons for saying that. However, I think that the chances of the venture becoming an exceedingly profitable one, and of the Government missing something by not taking equity capital, are not very great, and I should have thought that that accorded with the views of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall.
680 I think that there is undoubtedly a case for Government interest in private enterprise, partnership between the Government and capitalist enterprise, and a very good case for the Government to consider taking equity capital where it is reasonably certain that profits are at least going to be stable, and, certainly, where there is a reasonable prospect that profits will rise. But I should have thought that in a case of this sort, where the trends and indications do not support that view, it would be unwise for the Government to do so, and certainly upon these terms, which would give the Minister carte blanche to nationalise a very important part of British industry. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Diamond
Will the hon. Gentleman say from his own professional knowledge whether it is usual or unusual, where a speculative transaction of this kind is under consideration, for someone who is lending a very substantial sum to seek an option on the profits of the company in some form or other?
§ Mr. Stevens
That is certainly a growing trend. But as I indicated a moment ago, I should have thought that it would be so only in cases where there was a reasonable expectation of stability of profits or, better still, of increasing profits. I cannot imagine a borrower agreeing to, or a lender expecting, terms substituting security for risk where the chances were that the profit trend would be down.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the Cunard Company does not believe—it may be right or wrong—that this will be a profitable transaction for it?
§ Mr. Stevens
I will answer that question by asking the right hon. Gentleman why he thinks it necessary to have this Bill at all.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
This is a surprising development. All along we have been told that it was worth the Government's while to support the Cunard Line in the building of this liner, and the assumption underlying the scheme surely is that the liner will be a success. Indeed, very optimistic statements have been made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government 681 Front Bench and the back benchers opposite to that effect.
We are now told that the trend may not be in that direction. That has been our case from the outset. We have always doubted whether building a liner of this character will be a success. We have had very much in mind the increasing air travel across the Atlantic, the competition which is likely to ensue, and the fact that for several months of the year the liner could not possibly make a profit. I doubt whether the "Queens" have ever made a profit between November and May. In the summer the position is quite different, because the liners are then full to capacity.
Someone on the Government Front Bench should "come clean" about this. I do not know why the Minister of Transport should make that gesture. His gesture seems to imply that we on this side are not "coming clean". Anyway, I will give him the opportunity. I will pose two simple questions to him. I hope that he will give us straight answers with no nonsense about them. First, in this project, which has gained his unqualified support, does he believe that the vessel will make a profit?
My second question follows on from my first, though the answer to it may vary according to the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman answers my first question correctly. If the liner is calculated to make a profit over a period of years—not immediately, but in course of time—is there not logic in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), with a wealth of detail, that the Government should share in the profits, in what is called the equity, provided that an arrangement can be made for a conversion from debentures into ordinary shares? These are two simple questions.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens) apparently is not aware of a precedent which justifies us making this request. Is he aware that many years ago, long before he contemplated becoming a Member of Parliament, just about the time when I became a Member of Parliament, the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company, now the British Petroleum Company, entered into an arrangement with the Government of the day? This was at a time when the 682 Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company was a very small affair, nothing like the present colossal concern. There was a great deal of speculation as to whether it would at any time become a profitable concern.
There was considerable risk at the time, but in the opinion of the Government of the day it was a worthwhile proposition. Moreover, there were certain important strategic considerations to be taken into account.
§ Mr. Stevens
Does, the right hon. and venerable Gentleman agree that in that case the chances of increasing revenues over the years were very much greater than they are in this case?
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That does not seem to me to affect the argument on which we base our case.
That is an example of the Government of the day entering into a financial arrangement with the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company. It has proved very profitable indeed. The profits made and the accretions to the value of the shares over the years have been simply amazing. The Government have their share. They have their finger in the pie. Why cannot they have a finger in this pie, if they believe that the project is likely to prove profitable?
On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman may "come clean" and say that he thinks that this is a very speculative proposition; that he does not believe it will prove profitable; and that, in all the circumstances, particularly the increase in air travel, he is very doubtful about it. If he says that, why proceed with the project, especially as a large section of the Press is opposed to it and many shareholders in the Cunard Company have expressed their objections?
The final consideration is Cunard Eagle Airways. This subsidiary, this hive off, has now succeeded in obtaining a licence to conduct air operations across the Atlantic. We were a little doubtful about it when we were in Committee on the last occasion. The facts are now established. Statements have been made to the effect that the aircraft side of the business is likely to prove very profitable. The more profit made on the aircraft side, the less profit there will be on the "Queen".
683 Do the Government believe that a profit is likely to be made on the "Queen"? If so, why should not the taxpayers have their share? We must not forget that the taxpayers are not merely providing a loan at a comparatively low rate of interest. They are providing a cash subsidy in addition. If the Government believe that there is to be a profit, let the taxpayers have their share. If the Government say that it is most unlikely that there will be a profit, why proceed with the project?
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I had believed, rather optimistically, that this was a rather short point, but it seems to be spreading itself at great length. I do not like the Bill at all, but I do not believe that that is any reason for urging the Minister to make confusion worse confounded. The very last thing that we on this side of the Committee want to do is to give right hon. and hon. Members opposite any encouragement to follow the paths which they have indicated in their new party publication. I am sure that they feel flushed with pride and hope now that it has seen the light of day, but it would be silly for my right hon. and hon. Friends to treat the argument as being one which we could entertain.
I do not want to prolong the argument. I want very strongly to express the hope that my right hon. Friend will give no shrift whatever to the suggestion that the Government should share in the profits of this ship.
§ Mr. Diamond rose—
§ Mr. Peyton
I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman spoke at great length earlier.
Profits in this enterprise are likely to be hazardous in the extreme. It is questionable whether there will be any profits. What cannot be stressed too often is that if there are any profits the Government will have a share in any case—the very handsome share which habitually they take of all profits. So I think that, in this instance, at any rate, it would be much wiser for the Government to remain a debenture holder with the determination to extract their money as soon as possible and to get back their capital with interest.
My own feeling about the matter may be summed up by saying that the sooner 684 we are out the better. We do not want to get ourselves in any deeper.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I share the dislike of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for the Bill. I think it deplorable that we should be discussing a Bill which has been introduced simply because the Prime Minister made a rash General Election pledge. It is something which will cost the taxpayers a great deal of money.
I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's view about the investment of public money in private enterprise. He said that he did not like nationalisation and neither do I. But I do not see the difference, or, rather, I do see the difference, but I do not see why it is preferable to lend about £18 million of public money to an extremely doubtful enterprise on condition that we have no control in the running of the enterprise and no possible right to share in any profits which, hypothetically, it may make. That seems to be an extraordinary view.
Had the hon. Gentleman said, "I dislike the whole thing. Let the Cunard Company raise the money, or let the whole of the shipbuilders form a consortium to raise the money", that would be reasonable. To say that the Government must put up the whole of the money, but that it would be wholly improper to take any interest which might lead to a share in equity profit is extraordinary, and appears to me to be a view that has made nationalisation in this country so disastrous. The public is always getting the sticky end of the deal. It is forced to put up money for failing industries and has never been allowed to take a profit on the money provided.
Earlier, we heard a controversy between two eminent people who engage in advising clients about the investment of money. I hope that, if the Bill were passed, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens) would in no circumstances advise his clients to lend money on a fixed interest debenture for the running of a luxury Cunard liner across the Atlantic. I cannot think that the hon. Gentleman would do so because, like everyone else, he is extremely doubtful about the commercial possibilities of this matter.
Why should it be public money? Why should we do with public money something which none of us would dream of 685 doing with private money? We know, from the lessons we have learned during the ten years of Conservative Government, that the most fateful thing to do with money is to lend it on fixed terms. That is what we are proposing to do with the taxpayers' money.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that if there are no profits even envisaged in this enterprise, let us get out of it. It is only the fulfilment of an election pledge and in conformity with entirely outdated views about national prestige. If there are profits, what is wrong with following ordinary commercial custom and saying that if this company wants Government assistance these are the terms and they take a convertible debenture?
The hon. Member said that this may lead to nationalisation. It could only lead to the nationalisation of a subsidiary company. It is up to the Cunard Company and the Government to agree the terms, which presumably would not be such as to allow the Government an inordinate number of equity shares in their debenture. It is generally agreed that it would be extremely unlikely to be profitable to convert the debenture into equity shares at all. So, on the face of it, I do not see why that people who dislike nationalisation should feel that this is such a disastrous proposal. It would appear to be the sort of proposal which is the minimum that a professional man would advise his clients to insist on if they wanted to lend money. If they did not want to lend money, it would be a different matter.
I am not keen that the Government should be saddled with a company which is running a liner for private enterprise. If there were any chance of nationalising the company, I should be more opposed to it. If this is to be a commercial deal with one company, I do not consider these terms unreasonable. It is one thing to give general help to the industry, and if this Bill did that I should have more sympathy for it. But we are now doing something which is becoming a habit.
We are singling out firms—not by any means the most efficient, or firms which may be doing something desirable, perhaps, for social reasons, but particular firms and industries—for very doubtful reasons. We are proposing to sink pub- 686 lic money into them. If we are to do that, the least that we can do is to try to get for the taxpayer, whose money we are using, terms comparable with those upon which we should insist for any client of ours were we so foolish as to advise any client to do this sort of thing.
§ Mr. Michael Shaw (Brighouse and Spenborough)
There may be two opinions, in fact there are, as to the benefits to be derived from the Bill. But, if we are to accept it, there cannot be two opinions about the fact that it must be a Measure which is reasonable and acceptable to both sides. Otherwise, the objects of the Bill will never be fulfilled and the keel of the new liner will never be put down.
This transaction has been likened to a normal business transaction, but I consider that to be a fallacious argument. Were it possible to carry out this undertaking in a normal businesslike way, the Cunard Company would be able to go to the market and collect the money on the usual terms from the usual sources. However, in this case, that is impossible and to me it indicates that at best there is more than a normal risk about the whole transaction. If we decide—on balance, I support the Bill—that the Bill is a good one, we have to accept the fact that unusual terms in the normal business sense have also to be accepted.
I believe that the criteria by which we should judge whether the terms are acceptable, at any rate from the point of view of the public, must be security for the money and an early return of the capital. We must bear in mind that whatever terms are arrived at must be acceptable not only to us, but to the company. If we sacrificed any measure of security for a possible future capital gain, a future equity advantage, we should not be looking after the interests of the people. I believe that the risks involved are not the ordinary risks of a business transaction, and that we should consider the security of the capital and the possibility of its early return. I cannot, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens), in seeking to discredit the arguments of 687 my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), said that my hon. Friend had been very ingenuous in presenting them.
§ Mr. Rankin
It was an attempt to discredit the argument. I am not suggesting that it was a crime. I am merely saying that it was a dialectal trick, but by no means a dishonest one, because, in my opinion, the hon. Member for Langstone was even more ingenuous when he presented certain figures to try to show that the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester were founded on a false basis. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that my hon. Friend had not presented them fairly.
May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the figures which appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and which were presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)? May I also draw his attention to the speech which I made on that occasion, when I tried to show that the figures of the total number of people crossing the North Atlantic by air and by sea had both greatly increased? I agree that air traffic has increased. But so has sea traffic. The number of passengers crossing the North Atlantic by air and by sea has increased since 1948 from 877,000 to a total last year of 2,866,000.
That increase was represented by a growth of traffic by both sea and air and, while the number of air passengers in that period increased from 240,000 to about 2 million, sea traffic increased from 637,000 to 866,000—an increase of 229,000 persons using the sea to cross the North Atlantic.
It would seem, therefore, that the figures themselves justify the claims being put forward by hon. Members on this side of the Committee. The business is there and there is no reason why, since it is there, and since we are proposing to assist on the capital side, that we should not also enjoy some of the profits that will accrue.
I did not want to trust just to my own opinion about this and I took the trouble to put the matter to a person in the industry; Dr. Allan Davis, the deputy managing director of the Fairfield Ship- 688 building and Engineering Company, which is in my constituency. I agree that this gentleman has an interest in this subject and I do not for a moment deny that. This gentleman is conversant not only with shipbuilding, but with shipping generally. I asked him whether there was a purpose in going ahead with the building of a £30 million ship in view of the enormous developments that are taking place in air transport. He replied, "Many people still want to go by sea. There will still be room for a £30 million ship."
That view is shared by a great many people in the industry. It can be said that this will be a costly ship. I was going to say that it will not be a white elephant but, of course, elephants—whether white or any other colour—cannot be successfully compared with ships if we decide to remove any question of size. Nevertheless, people in responsible quarters consider that this vessel will not be run at a loss, and, because of that, I hope that the Committee will support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Leonard Cleaver (Birmingham, Yardley)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept the Amendment because I do not want to see the Minister—or any other hon. Member who may occupy a seat on the Front Bench on either side of the Committee—turning himself into a financier. The City of London and the other financial experts are quite capable of dealing with situations like that.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North) rose—
§ Mr. Cleaver
No, I will not give way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my speech, because I do not catch the Chairman's eye very often.
If, in fact, this were a normal commercial transaction the circumstances might be different. But it is not a normal transaction and the great imponderable is the extent to which we shall have to face foreign competition and subsidies. That is the whole purpose of the Bill and if it had not been for those considerations the Bill would not have been introduced. It is, as I say, because I do not want any Minister indulging in financial affairs of this sort that I do not want to see this Amendment accepted.
689 Let us be fair. If one has a debenture one has certain rights and an important part about it is, so far as the British taxpayer is concerned, is that if it is money loaned on a debenture, then that money is as secure as it can be. Naturally, I would like the money returned to the taxpayers' pockets as soon as possible. It should be the duty of the House of Commons to see that that takes place. But, considering the Amendment, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) is asking that… it shall be convertible into ordinary shares of the company at the option of the Minister and on such conditions and at such times as the Minister may consider right and equitable".In my view, one will not get a shipbuilding firm, or, for that matter, any other firm, to borrow money on that basis. It will refuse to take it.
The hon. Member for Gloucester does not stipulate whether it is to be £1 of debenture for a £1 share, £2 debenture for a £2 share, and so on, and it is not even shown whether, at the last moment, when there is only £10,000 of debenture unpaid whether it is to be one-half or three-quarters of the equity or what is the figure. The hon. Member for Gloucester could not ask anyone to accept money on those conditions.
§ Mr. Diamond
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has made that criticism. The part of the Amendment to which he refers is showing our confidence in the Minister to do what is right and equitable. It shows, in effect, that we have every confidence in the right hon. Gentleman. Has the hon. Gentleman no confidence in his own Minister?
§ Mr. Cleaver
My hon. Friends and I have absolute confidence in the Minister, but as a Minister of Transport and not as a financier. [HON. GENTLEMEN: "Oh."] I want the shoemaker to stick to his last. If that is done, the taxpayers' money will be safeguarded.
I was about to ask, for instance, at what time the Minister will exercise the wide powers which hon. Gentlemen opposite want to give to him. That is not stipulated in the Amendment, either. It may be that there is a period in the transaction during which there may be some profit accruing to the company but, 690 considering the matter on a long-term basis, one does not know what the political risk will be and the odds are that, later, it will not be profitable.
I do not want my right hon. Friend to be a sharp financier and try to change the taxpayers' money, even if it is secured under a debenture, into ordinary shares at a date convenient to himself. I want the taxpayers' money to be protected all the way. The Amendment does not secure the taxpayers' money adequately, and I am therefore not prepared to support the Amendment.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
The Minister of Transport is hardly a person who excites much sympathy. Nevertheless, one must feel some sympathy for him in view of the things that his hon. Friends have been saying about him. Certainly, it was a backhanded compliment that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Cleaver) paid him when he said that he was better as a Minister of Transport than as a financier.
The Minister ought not to regard this as a hostile Amendment. I favour the Bill, and there are many hon. Members on this side of the Committee who welcome it warmly. This is not the first time that we have embarked upon this kind of public loan which is to be repaid by the Cunard Company. Even those of us who were young at the time remember the days when David Kirkwood fought in 1934, for the continuance of building the 534, the "Queen Mary". No revolutionary doctrine is embodied in the Bill. That is why I was surprised at the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) giving us his version of modern events and of what he obviously thought were the peculiar activities of the Tory Party in these cases. I am sorry that he, as a Scottish Member, is opposed to the Bill root and branch.
If the Minister has failed in anything in connection with the Bill, it is in public relations. The Bill is an orphan. It has very few friends. Yet I have high hopes that it will go through the House. It is very important that not only should we get the Bill on to the Statute Book, but that, at the same time, it should be popularised to such an extent that we do not get opposition to it in the future.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)
I think that the hon. Member is making either a Second or Third Reading speech. This Amendment is fairly closely drawn and I should be glad if the hon. Member would direct his remarks to the Amendment.
§ Dr. Mabon
I am sorry if I appear to have wandered, Sir Harry. I did not think that I had, with respect.
If we can get this Amendment accepted, it will be easier for the Minister to discharge his duties under the Bill later. The Leader of the Liberal Party said that the Prime Minister made his statement about the Bill at a rash moment, but I think that it was a well considered statement. It even appeared in the Conservative Party General Election manifesto. The manifesto said that the Conservative Party intended to support the replacement of the "Queen" liners—
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but we are not dealing with whether or not there should be a new liner. We are simply dealing with the rights of debenture holders to have ordinary shares, and the other Amendment which is being considered at the same time relates to the distribution by the company of any profits made. I should be grateful if the hon. Member would direct himself to those Amendments.
§ Dr. Mahon
I have been here all the time that these Amendments have been discussed and I am trying, no doubt clumsily, to deal with the arguments that have been adduced previously.
If this Amendment were accepted I feel that it might remove some of the distaste that hon. Members have for the Bill and might in the future enable the Minister of Transport more easily to introduce a further Bill. I do not want to horrify any hon. Members, but if another Bill should be introduced to enable the "Queen Elizabeth" to be replaced I, for one, would support it. The Minister of Transport, whoever he may be, will have a difficult time. I shall be sorry for anybody who succeeds the present Minister and finds that Bills of this kind are surrounded by anathema.
692 The hon. Member for Yardley said that he was surprised that the Amendment was not detailed and specific and did not mention whether the rate should be 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. But the object of the Amendment is to make provision of a general nature; it is not designed to tie down the Minister precisely to definite details in what, as we have been reminded, is a two-sided bargain. It has got to receive the acquiescence of the shareholders of the Cunard Company itself—
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Mahon
The Cunard Company will not be asked to look at the Amendment. The Company will be asked to consider terms which the Minister will submit as a consequence of the powers that he will get under this Amendment. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to argue about hypothetical terms which do not at the moment exist. The terms will be prescribed if this power is given to the Minister of Transport who, I presume, enjoys the hon. Member's fullest confidence.
Hon. Gentlemen have to face the sound argument put forward by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland as to whether or not this is a just and fair Amendment in terms of loaning this money outside the market. The Minister, too, has to face that argument. He has got to choose between his own political prejudices and his public relations—and he has always been very good at public relations. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Yardley and others who preceded him are arguing entirely from the point of view of political prejudice, and rather old-fashioned prejudice, too.
If the public invest money in a company like this under an arrangement which is designed for the best of reasons—I make no apology for saying that; I do not subscribe to any of the criticisms which have been made about the principle of loaning public money for this purpose—it seems sensible to say that we ought to take part in whatever benefits, direct or indirect, may arise from that act. Having argued that empirically, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland did, without any recourse to political prejudice, so far as 693 I could see, since his views on capitalism are, I think, the same as those of the hon. Member for Yardley, it seems to me to be an essentially good and sound argument.
If the Minister were to say that the Cunard Company will in no circumstances tolerate any proposition of the kind suggested in this Amendment, then those of us who support the Bill might be embarrassed by the Amendment, but it is rather unfair of the hon. Gentleman to argue that for reasons of political philosophy we ought not to do this. As one of the 630 Members of Parliament who are responsible for the custody of the public purse, it seems to me a sound argument that the public ought to enjoy whatever profits may arise out of any transaction of this kind.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has made it clear that there is a conflict of opinion between hon. Members opposite. There are those who wish to see the new Cunarder built, and there are others who have consistently put down Amendments which would undoubtedly wreck the whole proposition if they were accepted.
When I read the terms of the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) and his hon. Friends, I could not see how the professional advisers to the Cunard Company could possibly accept terms of this sort. I am sure the hon. Gentleman himself would not have expected them to accept terms precisely the same as those appearing in the Amendment.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made it clear that he is not in favour of the Bill as a whole and that he regards the Amendment as a means of wrecking the Bill. This pattern has presented itself throughout all our proceedings on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) put his finger on the point when he said that this is 694 a matter of negotiation. Negotiations have been in progress with the Cunard Company, and the outcome of those negotiations has been drafted and set out in the White Paper. If there were any variation in the terms, it would mean that the Cunard Company would have to review the transaction again.
§ Mr. Willey
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing in Committee that the Cunard Company should control the way we advance public moneys? It is for the House of Commons to decide the terms on which money is advanced and for the Cunard Company to decide whether the terms are acceptable. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that, since it is not in the White Paper, it is improper for us to discuss it in Committee.
§ Mr. Howard
I am not arguing that it is improper for us to discuss it in Committee. I am doing no more than point out that certain terms have been negotiated in draft, subject, obviously, to ratification by the House and by the Cunard Company. The suggestion in the Amendment goes very far from the original proposals in the White Paper.
Going back to the origin of these proposals, Her Majesty's Government decided that they would replace one of the "Queen" liners.
§ Mr. Howard
The two, but one only is the subject of discussion. The Chandos Committee considered the matter and made certain recommendations, including the recommendation that the Cunard Company was the best organisation to manage this proposition. It also recommended the size of the vessel.
It is generally accepted that there is a considerable element of risk. We are speaking of a vessel which has but one purpose. It can be used on the trans-Atlantic run and virtually nowhere else. There is also the risk attached to competition from subsidised vessels on the same run. In my view, Her Majesty's Government are quite right to put emphasis upon the importance of securing themselves against the risks. They decided that they would take £18 million of loan capital and that, if there were any profits over a 7½ per cent. return to the Cunard interest, those profits would 695 be used to accelerate the repayment of the debentures. I regard that as a very wise precaution.
If we now decide on a different procedure, and introduce convertible debentures, the whole proposition will have to be renegotiated. It may be that the Cunard Company would be delighted for Her Majesty's Government to take a greater share of risk; but I cannot believe that, having outlined these terms in draft, they would be prepared to gore Her Majesty's Government the advantage of a secured debenture and, at the same time, allow them an option to convert into ordinary shares. I think that we must make up our minds either that we take part of the risk now, or that we follow the wiser course of taking a debenture on the £18 million which we put up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) made an admirable point when he declared that the taxpayer already has an interest in the profits. Whether the company likes it or not, whether business or private individuals like it or not, Her Majesty's Government are interested to the extent of 53¾ per cent. in all profits earned in this country. I am sure that that is the right way of taking any benefit from the transaction, not in equity shares.
§ Mr. Diamond
To what extent will the security of the Government be prejudiced in the slightest by their having a convertible debenture as opposed to a straight debenture?
§ Mr. Howard
I do not accept that it would be practical to negotiate a variation of the contract in that way. Any professional adviser having before him the heads of agreement outlined in this way would be most unwilling and most unwise to advise his clients to vary the terms so that they gave away part of the equity in the manner proposed in the Amendment.
§ Mr. Peyton
One of the points we are anxious about here is that we must guard against the catastrophe of there being a hotheaded, very much less intelligent Minister of Transport than we have now, someone drawn from the benches opposite, who would go plunging into this at an early date and thereby prejudice the chance of Her Majesty's 696 Government getting back their money from the project.
§ Mr. Howard
I entirely agree that that is a danger against which we must guard. The proposals as they stand in the Bill represent the best way of safeguarding Her Majesty's Government against such a catastrophe.
§ Mr. Bence
It is obvious from the speeches we have heard that several hon. Members opposite do not like the idea of having to finance the reconstruction of the Cunard liner and, moreover—this strikes me as quite extraordinary—they, having somehow been coerced into supporting the reconstruction, resent the idea of a Conservative Government acting as financiers of a private capital enterprise in which they themselves have no faith, and they say that the Government should not have any share of the profits of the enterprise. This is a most extraordinary attitude to come from the Conservative Party in 1961. No more than a century ago, the founder of the Conservative Party resisted the party as it was then, made off on his own, and bought on behalf of the Government the shares in the Suez Canal. The interest in those shares continued for a very long time, and out of it the Government made a very substantial—
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Disraeli was the founder of the Conservative Party? In fact, it was Sir Robert Peel, quite a time before that.
§ Mr. Bence
I make that point to illustrate the change which has overtaken Conservative thinking. Conservatives now are not prepared to see the Government act as financiers and take profits out of a major enterprise, whereas the founder of the party was someone who believed in doing that. I am surprised also at the attitude of the Liberal Party. Liberals once believed in financing private enterprise and taking profits out of it. We remember the Marconi Company and the International Telegraph Company of 1910. The two parties have changed their philosophies. I do not understand why there should be such resentment from hon. Members opposite about financing private enterprise when, for instance, we have £50 million in Colvilles.
§ Mr. Bence
The hon. Gentleman did not vote against it at the time.
We finance motor companies. For many years, the Government have been one of the predominant creators of money in the community. The State is now the creator of credit and finance generally in the country. The Government are the biggest financiers in the country in every way. I remember the old days when we used to say—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member has dwelt a great deal on the past. Will he now deal with the present and the future in relation to these two Amendments, which are rather narrower than his argument has been so far?
§ Mr. Bence
I am trying to answer hon. Members who objected to the Minister of Transport being a financier. That was the objection, and I am saying that the Government have been and still are one of the principal financiers of capital enterprise in this country. In that activity they are not averse to taking, on behalf of the community, what profits they can out of their financing. That is plain enough, and it is really the point behind the Amendment.
The Government have been in negotiations with Cunard. Why should they not establish for themselves the right to take some of the profits out of the operation of the enterprise? They have done it with the Post Office. They have financed the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman, the present Minister of Transport, was a financier with the Post Office for a long time. The Treasury made a profit out of that. Why should not the same be done with the Cunard liner? I cannot understand it.
We get propaganda about profit sharing. I think that there is something to be said for profit sharing. Why should not the Exchequer, on behalf of the taxpayer, take part in some profit sharing? I have faith in the profitability of this liner, because I am convinced that the firm most likely to build it will build a liner so much in advance of anything else on the North Atlantic route that it will attract more passengers than any other. The world knows that British shipbuilders can do a first-class job and surpass any other shipbuilders.
698 This liner would attract the cream of the traffic in the North Atlantic. I hope that the Amendment will be passed, because the taxpayers are putting up the money in support of this enterprise. The Government may have been coerced into it by rash promises in order to get votes in Scotland, but I support the Amendment and the principle that the Government should take a part in providing what I believe will be the most profitable liner on the North Atlantic route.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
I would support any Amendment from any quarter of the Committee that has the slightest hope of sinking the Bill. As to this Amendment, I cannot think that if any people had put their heads together for the purpose, they could have devised an Amendment less likely to achieve that object. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) has naturally a very proper interest in this matter, which is of great concern in his area, but whatever else was in his mind or that of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), I am sure that it was not to try to find some words to unite the Conservative and Socialist benches to sink this Bill. I could have helped them a great deal if that had been the aim. But obviously that is not part of this Amendment, and I cannot honestly pursue that aspect of it.
Everyone who has spoken realises that the security concerned in this matter is presumably—if the Amendment is carried—the "Q/", in other words, this ship and no more than this ship. The truth is that there is very little reason or sense in the Amendment put forward on the basis of profit.
It is true also—it is a matter of opinion and I can only express my own opinion; I cannot prove it—that it is not merely a question of a new ship attracting the cream of the Atlantic traffic—any new ship will probably do that—but it has to go on attracting the cream of the traffic for years, all the year round, or substantially all the year round, for the best part of twenty years.
We are the custodians of public money. It is suggested that we should put the responsibility on the public of assuming that they would get some profit. That would be most misleading 699 because this liner will probably be outdated, if not before it is completed then within a few years thereafter. To do that would, I think, be perfectly improper.
At the same time, by these words we should be placing responsibility on a Minister of Transport who at any moment, by nebulous Parliamentary procedure—sticking Orders on the Table and so on—could change these arrangements in any way he liked. No one wishing to put down an Amendment which would bring one flickering momentary light of support for the Government in this matter could say that he had done it by this Amendment.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst). That support has given me surprise and joy and, I may say, not a little apprehension. I am a wee bit sorry that the support that he gave me was qualified in some way. There is another unique feature of this very interesting debate. Already five chartered accountants have taken part in it. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) moved the Amendment, the hon. Members for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens), Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Shaw), Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Cleaver) and Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) replied—five chartered accountants—and I, as a member of that illustrious body, make six altogether.
There are two points which I should like to make quite clear to the Committee. It has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley that this is not a normal commercial transaction. The Government agree about that. The reason for that is quite clear. In the express passenger trade across the Atlantic the United States and France are our competitors. The United States paid 58 per cent. of the capital cost of their ship, France is paying 20 per cent. of the capital cost, and in this Measure we are proposing to pay 11 per cent. of the capital cost. It is clear that no private enterprise firm run by any hon. Member opposite could compete with these huge subsidies. There must be a fair crack of the whip.
We have decided on this policy because we want the continuation of the 700 trans-Atlantic express passenger service. If we want that we have to decide what are the principles and what is the basis on which we give our help. Do we want maximum security and no profit? Do we want all the profit and no security? Do we want a little security and part of the profit? What permutations and combinations are we after?
The Chandos Committee agreed with Cunard certain principles. These principles were quite clear and are enshrined in the White Paper. First, the Government want security and want no part in the equity. They do not want to participate in the business, but they want to make sure of the continuation of the trans-Atlantic express passenger service. Therefore we want the loan repaid as quickly as possible, the best security and the highest level of interest possible. That is the first principle of the Chandos Committee's Report.
The second is that we want all the mortgage repaid quickly and we do not want Cunard to take out profits before that mortgage is repaid. We have now the arithmetic which translates those principles into practice. First, that Cunard would be limited to 7½ per cent. of the profit. Any excess will accelerate the repayment of the Government's loan and we shall get out of this as quickly as possible. That is what we want. Secondly, the interest on the loan, according to the Chandos Committee, is fixed at the highest level that Cunard can bear, bearing in mind the subsidised competition which it is facing.
An analogy occurs to my mind. Many Members of this House and people outside buy a house and obtain a loan from a building society. They borrow 60 per cent., 65 per cent, or 70 per cent. on a house at a fixed rate of interest—perhaps it may fluctuate slightly—on certain repayment terms. At the end of that time, the house belongs to the man who has borrowed the money. The hon. Member for Gloucester, in a very disingenuous speech for a chartered accountant, said in effect that the man who lends the money on mortgage should be allowed at any time under any conditions to change that mortgage into equity. If he has a client who has bought a house from somebody and obtained a building society loan of 60 per cent., would he advise his client to agree if the building society came along at the last moment 701 and said, "We are going to take equity shares if the house is good and if it is a bad one we will leave it with you"? It is a case of heads you win, and tails I lose. It is with these principles in mind that the Amendment has been moved.
§ Mr. Diamond
The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with only half of the story on a completely false analogy. We are not buying a house. No one would invest a disproportionate amount in a business and not expect to get a proportionate share in the equity.
§ Mr. Marples
I said at the beginning of my speech that this was not a normal commercial transaction. Would the hon. Gentleman advise any of his clients to do that? Four of my hon. Friends who are chartered accountants have said that they would not do so. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley expressed doubts about my financial ability, I add my weight to that of my four hon. Friends against the hon. Member for Gloucester. [Interruption.] He never advises his clients to do that. I am due to lecture at the summer school of chartered accountants. If I presented this thesis, those present would be shocked. I am surprised that any professional man like the hon. Gentleman should advocate that. I had certain people in mind whom I proposed to recommend to the hon. Member, but now I shall have to think again.
The second part of the hon. Gentleman's theory was that this option should be at the whim, at the discretion, of one party at any time on any terms. If he believes that, he will believe anything. Many people write to me as Minister of Transport saying that people who drive cars should be re-tested from time to time. I am beginning to think that the same should apply to chartered accountants. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has never done a deal like that in his own firm.
I believe that this is upsetting the balance of a package deal. We in the Government want security and we have gone for security. We want our loan repaid as quickly as possible. We shall not allow the Cunard Company to take out profits during the period before they have repaid us. That is the best thing that we can possibly do. The hon. 702 Member for Gloucester said that this venture is potentially profitable. He went back to Noah's Ark, which was a reasonable deal for shipbuilders and shipping people at that time. He quoted The Times and said that this respectable newspaper stated that the Government should take part of the equity, and therefore we should act on what it said. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with what The Times said about nuclear shipping? I shall quote that against him later. It was precisely the opposite to what the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench said. If we want a share in the equity, we are bound at this stage to relinquish some part of our security. We do not wish to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Langstone said, quite rightly, that we want security of capital. That is the Government's sole object. Some hon. Members opposite have said that this venture will be profitable. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) said that it will be profitable, but the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), a lone wolf, said that it will not be profitable. If the right hon. Gentleman is right, we want security. Surely he must go into the Lobby with us for security as against a share of the profits, which there will not be according to him.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The Minister forgets to tell the whole story. Apart from the loan of £18 million at 6½ per cent., a low rate of interest which the company could have obtained in the City of London or anywhere else, there is the £3;½ million subsidy in cash. Do we get no return from that?
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Member's accountancy is not quite right. The £18 million is not at 6½ per cent. The Chandos Committee recommended a loan of £18 million at 4½ per cent. The subsidy is £3¼ million, not £3½ million.
§ Mr. Marples
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is the last person in the Committee to wish to be inaccurate. It is £3¼ million. This was given to bridge the difference between an interest rate of 4½ per cent. which the Chandos Committee recommended and the Public Works Loan Board rate, which is 6½ per cent. or 6¼ per cent. The subsidy is 703 under £4 million and over £3 million It represents 11 per cent. of the capital cost of the ship as against 58 per cent. and 20 per cent. which America and France respectively give, and I do not think it is an unreasonable figure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was quite right in saying that we do not wish to share in the profit We want to get our money back for the taxpayer as quickly as possible. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that he disliked the Bill, but he did not vote against it. I do not know why if he did not like it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Gentleman is losing his touch. He was not like that in the 1945–50 Parliament. He was much more gracious.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has not studied the agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, who is also a chartered accountant and a Yorkshireman, again emphasised the importance of security. A person who is both a chartered accountant and a Yorkshireman obviously would advocate security. I agree with him.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) said that there was room for a ship. In this respect, I regard him as a very uncertain ally. On Second Reading he was for me, later he was against me and now he is for me in a qualified way.
§ Mr. Rankin
The right hon. Gentleman must not wrongly accuse me. During the Committee stage I repeated to him what I had said to him on Second Reading, and he accepted it. I said that he had my support for the Bill, and he was very glad to have my support because of the paucity of support for it on the benches behind him.
§ Mr. Marples
I am always glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support in his own right, irrespective of what is happening behind me. I am glad that he has confirmed that I have his support.
The Committee must make up its mind whether it wants security or a share of the profits.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East has given it away. He wants both security and a share of the profits. One often tries to get the best of both worlds, but more often than not one falls down in that endeavour. In this case it is right and proper that the Government should go for security and should have no part in the running or profits of a shipping firm. I hope that the Committee will support me in that belief.
§ Mr. Strauss
I have been waiting with interest to hear what the Minister's answer would be to the arguments which have been put forward in support of the obvious and sensible proposition that where the State provides the majority of the finance in a new venture it should be entitled, under certain conditions, to draw some of the profits. The right hon. Gentleman's argument seemed to me to be a remarkable combination of ignorance, prejudice and fallacy. I will tell him why in a moment.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens) said that it was unreasonable for those of us who thought that the prospects of this ship were bleak to make a fuss and to demand that the State should take some share of any profits which may be made. But surely it is perfectly logical for us to take that line. Presumably the Cunard Company believes that this ship will be profitable. If the members of its board do not think that, they should be "had up" in the courts for wasting their shareholders' money. It would be a dereliction of duty on their part if they entered into this venture and did not think that it would be profitable.
The Government, too, hope and believe that the venture will be profitable. We have been told that. We are exceedingly doubtful. But that is no reason why we should not say it is right for the State, which is providing most of the money, to demand some share of any profits which may accrue. The hon. Member for Langstone suggested that the Amendment is a short cut to the proposal put forward by my party in "Signpost for the Sixties" and that if this principle were accepted it would give us 705 some control over the Cunard Company. I am amazed at the modesty of our proposal. We do not go half as far as that respectable supporter of the Establishment, The Times, which said that if a ship of this sort were built, the State ought to take 50 per cent. of the equity. We are demanding something much more modest. We say that as part of the arrangement between the Government and the Cunard Company, some measure of equity should accrue to the State.
Throughout his speech the Minister said that the Government had to choose between security and sharing the profits, as though there were some inconsistency in getting security and sharing profits. That is why, on this aspect, his speech was one of ignorance based on fallacy. He was apparently unaware of the normal procedure of industry which, for a chartered accountant, is amazing; the practice which the hon. Member for Langstone admitted to be a growing one. It is that when a finance house lends money for an industrial venture it gets debentures in return for that money, and thereby 100 per cent. security, so far as security is possible, together either with an option to take up equity shares later, or the debentures convertible into ordinary shares. Therefore, to suggest that there is any inconsistency between security and some sharing of profits is nonsense, for in industry it is today common practice.
The Minister asked me whether I and my firm would be prepared to take part in procedure such as is advocated in the Amendments. I am not in that position, but when I was Minister of Supply I was, and I came across a striking example. It may be said that I was the victim of the situation. When, as Minister responsible, I nationalised the steel industry, the Government took over the Steel Company of Wales and I found that a loan had been given to that company by the Finance Corporation for Industry a little previously.
The loan was for £35 million, in respect of which the Finance Corporation for Industry had received a debenture. It had also been granted by the company 706 as a condition for making the loan an option to take up certain equity shares at a later date, if things turned out well. It was a perfect example of a combination of security with an opportunity to make a profit. When we nationalised the Steel Company of Wales, the State had to pay the Finance Corporation for Industry £2¼ million for wiping out that option. That was paid to the Corporation because it was entitled to some share in the profits of the firm. I cannot understand the Minister's argument about inconsistency between sharing the profits and security. There is no inconsistency whatever.
I come to the last point in my indictment of the Minister, which is that his argument is based on prejudice. By "prejudice" I mean some emotional attitude unsupported by reason. He has not put forward any sound logical reason which would apply to a finance house in industry to support his case, and therefore it is prejudice. The Conservative Government and most of their supporters have a strong prejudice against the State taking any equity share in private industry. It is a prejudice which we do not share.
We say that in certain conditions it is quite right for the Government to help private industry and to lend money to it, but that when it does so it should seek a share of the profits which may result from such a loan or subsidy. We think that it is right and in the interests of the shareholders and that the prejudice of the Government, in refusing when lending money to a company, for what may be perfectly proper reasons, to bring back to the taxpayer any of the profits which may result, is wholly contrary to the interests of the taxpayer.
It is because the Government are standing on an argument which is purely political prejudice against any profit sharing with industry, and because their other arguments about the inconsistency between profit sharing and security are patently nonsense, as is known by everybody with any experience of industry, that the Government should be condemned for opposing the Amendments, and we therefore propose to divide the Committee.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserttd:—708
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 132, Noes 196.709
|Division No. 230.]||AYES||[5.25 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hayman, F. H.||Peart, Frederick|
|Bacon, Mist Alice||Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Bence, Cyril||Hilton, A. V.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Benson, Sir George||Holman, Percy||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Blyton, William||Houghton, Douglas||Randall, Harry|
|Bowles, Frank||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Rankin, John|
|Boyden, James||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hunter, A. E.||Ross, William|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Irvine, Sydney (Dartford)||Short, Edward|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Jeger, George||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Chapman, Donald||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Snow, Julian|
|Chetwynd, George||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cliffe, Michael||Jones, Rt. Hn.A. Creech(Wakefield)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Corbet. Mrs. Freda||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Steele, Thomas|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Darling, George||Kenyon, Clifford||Stones, William|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||King, Dr. Horace||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Deer, George||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Diamond, John||Lipton, Marcus||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Dodds, Norman||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Thornton, Ernest|
|Driberg, Tom||Mclnnes, James||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Tomney, Frank|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|'Evans, Albert||McLeavy, Frank||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Warbey, William|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Manuel, A. c.||Weitzman, David|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wells, William (Walsall. N.)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Crmrthn)||Mellish, R. J.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Ginsburg, David||Mendelson, J. J.||Whitlock, William|
|Gordon walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Milne, Edward J.||Willey, Frederick|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Grey, Charles||Monslow, Walter||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Moyle, Arthur||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Noel-Baker,Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.)||Woof, Robert|
|Grimond, J.||Oliver, G. H.||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Gunter, Ray||Oram, A. E.||Zilinacus, K.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paget, R. T.|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannan, William||Parker, John||Mr. G. H. R. Rogers and|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Buck, Antony||Eden, John|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bullard, Denys||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Allason, James||Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Elliott, R. W.(Nwcstle-upon-Tyne,N.)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Jullan||Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Finlay, Graeme|
|Arbuthnot, John||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Fisher, Nigel|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)|
|Barber, Anthony||Cary, Sir Robert||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Channon, H. P. G.||Freeth, Denzil|
|Batsford, Brian||Chataway, Christopher||Gammans, Lady|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Chichester-Clark, R.||Gardner, Edward|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Bell, Ronald||Clark, William (Nottingham, s.)||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Cleaver, Leonard||Goodhew, Victor|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Cooke, Robert||Green, Alan|
|Bingham, R. M.||Cooper, A. E.||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Gurden, Harold|
|Bishop, F. P.||Cordeaux, Lt-Col. J. K.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Corfield, F. V.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)|
|Bossom, Clive||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Box, Donald||Critchley, Julian||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Cunningham, Knox||Hastings, Stephen|
|Braine, Bernard||Currie, G. B. H.||Hay, John|
|Brewis, John||Dance, James||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt. Col.Sir Walter||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Brooman-White, R.||de Ferranti, Basil||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Doughty, Charles||Hiley, Joseph|
|Bryan, Paul||Duthie, Sir William||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hon. Sir R.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Hint, Geoffrey||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)|
|Holland, Philip||Marshall, Douglas||Smithers, Peter|
|Hopkins, Alan||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Hornby, R. P.||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Speir, Rupert|
|Howard, Hon. C. R. (St. Ives)||Mills, Stratton||Stodart, J. A.|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Montgomery, Fergus||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Testing, William|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Jackson, John||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|James, David||Farmed, Norman (Kirkdale)||Turner, Colin|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Peel, John||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Jennings, J. c.||Percival, Ian||van Straubenzee, w. R.|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pitman, Sir James||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Pitt, Miss Edith||Walder, David|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Pott, Percivall||Walker, Peter|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Pym, Francis||Wail, Patrick|
|Leburn, Gilmour||Quennell Miss J. M.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Linstead, Sir Hugh||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Whitelaw, William|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Renton, David||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Renton, David||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Longbottom, Charles||Ridsdale, Julian||Wise, A. R.|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Rippon, Geoffrey||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|McAdden, Stephen||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool,S.)||Woollam, John|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Worsley, Marcus|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.)||Russell, Ronald|
|McMaster, Stanley R.||Sharples, Richard||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)||Shaw, M.||Mr. Gibson-Watt and Mr. Noble.|
|Maddan, Martin||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn|
§ Mr. Rankin
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, at the end to insert:Provided that notwithstanding any provision to the contrary contained in the articles of association of the company the Minister shall be entitled to appoint two directors of the company.I hope that the Minister will note that here we are asking that he should be given an entitlement. We are seeking to strengthen his hand, and I trust that is not an attitude which he will lightly reject. We want to give him more power than he presently has.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee to note that we are not advocating something new. There is nothing novel in the terms of the Amendment, because the practice which we want to apply in the case of this new ship is already in existence. There are many examples of it. In Scotland we have another shipping company, MacBraynes, which, like the Cunard Company, is subsidised by the Government. There, because of the fact that the public interest is engaged in the matter, the Government elect a director to the board of that shipping company.
The Ministry of Labour has many schemes under D.A.T.A.C., and where it forms a company it also appoints a 710 director to that company, again because of the fact that public money is being utilised. They are simply recognising a practice which is accepted on both sides of the Committee, that where taxation is involved representation ought to follow. Because of its democratic nature, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will not reject lightly the purpose which this Amendment seeks to carry out.
We have, of course, a much more interesting example in the case of the Cunard Company, because a year ago it took over Eagle Airways. As finance was involved, the Cunard Company and Eagle Airways recognised their mutual interests. Directors of the Cunard Company are now directors of Eagle Airways and directors of Eagle Airways are now directors of the Cunard Company. Over £1 million changed hands, and, again, the recognition of that fact was translated into terms of representation. Therefore, the Cunard Company has helped in continuing the precedent which under this Amendment we want the right hon. Gentleman to apply.
The other interesting example is that of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., as it was when the agreement with the Government was made in 1914. It has on its 711 board two directors appointed by the Government. The terms of the agreement still in force are worth noting. The purpose was to enable Government interests in the company to be duly protected, but with the minimum of interference with the conduct of its ordinary business. The agreement states:The power of veto over all acts of the Board and committee of the Company and its subsidiaries is conferred on the two ex officio directors with right secured to the other directors to appeal to His Majesty's Government as represented by the Treasury and the Admiralty. His Majesty's Government do not however surrender their right to be represented on the Board by a larger number of directors proportionate to their share in the Company if such a step should become necessary at any time.Every word in the paragraph I have quoted can apply to the project which is now under our consideration. The Government have interests in the project, and it is proper that those interests should be protected. The agreement goes on to say:His Majesty's Government have given an assurance to the Company that this veto will be exercised with due regard to the financial and commercial interests of the Company and only in respect of matters of general policy such as the supervision of the activities of the Company as they may affect questions of foreign and military policy, any proposed sale of the undertaking or change of status of the Company.All the matters mentioned in the second part of that paragraph of the agreement could quite well become matters which would affect the business which follows the building of this vessel, and so I hope that the Minister will regard this as a very important Amendment indeed. I fail to see how he can possibly resist it, nor how any Member opposite can fail to support it. The right hon. Gentleman has already said, speaking to the previous Amendment, that the Government do not want to participate in the business: they want to get out of it as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Rankin
They want the loan repaid as quickly as possible. Those are words which do not signify a great deal because it may be a long number of years before the loan is repaid, and all during those years Government interests will be involved, and the popular interest 712 will be involved because taxpayers' money is invested. As the agreement with the British Petroleum Company shows, there are many interests concerned, which, in my view, demand representation on the board.
It is sometimes said that these are sinecure jobs. That they simply add to Government expenses. But those aspects have been pursued within the House, and, as a result of Questions and Answers from the Front Bench, it has been made clear that the Government directors receive no remuneration from public funds. They are paid as directors of the board to which they have been appointed.
The other point which has been put forward is that where such appointments are made they are purely formal appointments; the duties are negligible. Dealing with that, the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury used these words:That is not true. Government directors play their part in all matters affecting the company's affairs in exactly the same way as other directors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 763.]There we have the assurance that these are real appointments carrying responsibilities equal to those of any other members of the board.
Because of that and the other considerations which I have put forward, the chief being that here we are giving to this company a very large sum of money for which the House in the long run bears the responsibility, there ought to be people who can look after the interests which that money represents, and who can look after the purpose for which it is being employed. I hope that the Amendment will commend itself to the Committee.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
To me, this is a rather interesting Amendment which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) has proposed. As he says, it does not include any particularly new principle or violate any practice already accepted by the House. In particular, I note the word he has used in his Amendment, that the Minister shall be "entitled" to appoint two directors. I think this is the operative word of this Amendment. It is a permissive Amendment giving the Minister 713 power to appoint directors if at any moment he should so desire and think that worth while.
It would be helpful to the Committee if something like this were to be considered, and we had an authoritative statement from the Minister in due course, because I have heard rumours in recent months of the possibility, for example, that if the Bill were to fail Cunard would bale out of the North Atlantic express passenger service and would not only let Q.1 go out of operation, but sell this ship, and, perhaps, Q.2 as well, to American operators. I do not know how true those rumours are. It might be that a Government director on the board would be helpful in ascertaining the facts so that the House should know.
At any rate, before going further I think that the Committee is entitled to know the constancy of purpose and patriotism of the management of the Cunard Company in this matter; or whether, if it does not get a subvention or loan from this Committee, it will exercise what we have all thought in the past to be the national interests. It raises in my mind the question of the calibre of the management of the company and whether it really wishes to see us remain on the North Atlantic at all. It might be that a Government director would apply the necessary corrective.
It might be that on the question of prestige a Government director would be of some assistance. I look at two contradictory statements which of recent months have been raised on this. I refer, first, to the statement by the Minister of Transport on 26th October last year:This was not so much on the grounds of helping shipbuilding; it was to help our prestige across the Atlantic and earn valuable dollars for this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 2339.]Is this a prestige venture? The Minister thought so in October last year and yet, at the annual general meeting of the Cunard Company, the chairman, Sir John Brocklebank, was reported in the Financial Times of 15th June as having said, and I quote:Sir John made it plain that the Q.3 project had been considered by the Board purely as a business risk. Prestige had not been considered in the calculation".Perhaps a Government director, while not reconciling these two contradictions, might at least be able to establish the 714 facts of the situation here. A Government director, perhaps, might help us on the Conservative benches. I am told that there are times when Ministers need a rest. It may be that there would be a suitable vacancy here for an ex-Colonial Secretary or somebody. Maybe a director on the board could help us to know whether or not we are committed to a second ship.
Much play has been made of my party's election manifesto, in which the word "ships" was used. Would a Government director help us in this matter to find the facts? On costs, surely, a Government director could be of assistance here. We have heard that the Cunard Company is interested in this bargain if the ship does not cost more than £30 million. If it does we enter into the region of doubt, and Parliament would be placed in an extraordinary situation.
It may cost £36 million, but if it is £31 million we do not know what may happen, but surely we put ourselves, in Parliament, in a position of being faced with the possibility of going through the whole of this rigmarole—I am sure that the Minister and many of us would be glad to get shot of it altogether, because it has gone on for too long—again to find that it costs £31 million and that Cunard does not want it after all. Does not this bring the whole process of Parliament into disrepute? Perhaps a Government director a little earlier might have been able to help us.
I do not want to make partisan points—[An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Gentleman is doing very well."]—but I should have thought that here are reasons for us deserving more reliable knowledge than we have been given so far. It could be argued that a Government director would ensure more money being available for social purposes. I do not know. Incidentally, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking for economies. I am told that he is by the national newspapers. Perhaps here, in this £18 million, is where he could start. It might not be a bad thing to start with achieving economies on something which the majority of the Committee does not want.
What about the return on the capital? Here, we see the Government being prepared to invest in a company in which 715 there have been declining profits and increased directors' fees. Maybe it would be better to increase the number of directors and reduce the average age a bit. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the fees."] Perhaps a Government director, perhaps an ex-Minister, a young and bright ex-Minister—
§ Mr. Williams
—could go on the board and bring in some new ideas from outside. Maybe, if we had a Government director we could reconcile the contradictions which have been arrayed before us throughout the whole process of the discussions on the Bill. Perhaps we may get a clearer statement from the Government today on whether Cunard is really serious about staying in this business or not. If it is, we should not find this money without also putting a director on the board.
§ Mr. Grimond
We have all listened with great sympathy to what the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) has said, except, perhaps, the Minister. The only part of his speech with which I found myself in disagreement was that in which he suggested suitable persons among whom we might look for directors of the company, mentioning ex-members of the Government. This company has had enough trouble without having that added burden thrust upon it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would the hon. Gentleman prefer some of the present Ministers?"] I would not prefer the present Ministers, but that, as they say, it is a hypothetical question, into which I am not prepared to go any further. What I do believe is that the Minister will, without question, agree with the Amendment. He is a reasonable man of sound character and is no doubt anxious to fall in with what has been the general policy on this matter.
I was very interested in this because, while this rather larger matter of the Cunard Company is going on, the Government are giving assistance to some shipping services in my own constituency, and, to my mind, it is assistance which has a much better case. It is for islands which have no other means of transport except the sea. There is no prestige involved in it, the sum of money is much smaller, and a good deal of 716 wealth will accrue to the nation as a result. The Government are not in the case of my constituency simply assisting a company against its competitors. They are going to supply a social service—I hope. They are going to found a new company, and the Secretary of State for Scotland published the composition of the new company in a Written Answer to me, in which he said:The agreement would provide, among other matters for the appointment of Government Directors as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the new company,".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th June, 1961; Vol. 643, c. 26.]So far as I know, no one has taken exception to that. Everybody discussing the matter has taken it that if the Government put up a proportion of the money, as in this case and in the case of Cunard, and if they wish to appoint directors, they could do so. The Amendment does not compel them to appoint directors; it merely gives them the option to do so. It is a common option in the case of people who put money into an enterprise, and it is common form in many undertakings of the Government. We have had many illustrations of that already.
The Government might argue that they do not want to appoint directors to the Cunard Company itself. There is no question of that, as I understand it. It is a question of appointing directors to a subsidiary company which is to receive assistance from the Government and which is to run the ship. Again, I have felt sometimes that Government directors were in this difficulty. They very often were people simply put on the board because the Government had some interest in the company, but not expected to take any great part in running the company. Nevertheless, as has been said, they are there to look after the public interest in general. In this particular case, there seems to me to be a great deal to be said for having such directors on this company, as quite apparently the project has occasioned some degree of suspicion, not only on this side of the Committee, but all round and, indeed, throughout the country. If ever there was a case in which the public had an interest in following their money and having somebody on the board, this is it.
I am always greatly struck by the difference in the attitude of the Government in dealing with a small matter like 717 that in my own constituency and this one of the Cunard Company. It has taken us eight years to get any kind of promise of assistance from the Government for essential services in the Orkneys.
§ Mr. Grimond
It is true that I represent part of Scotland, and this may be a reason for Scottish self-government. Here, we have this Bill, in which a very large sum of money is being given to a company in which, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has said, the record of the present board is not all that striking. No doubt, its members have good reasons for this. No doubt, they are competent at their job, but no one can say that the record of the Cunard Company has been very inspiring compared with the records of other shipping companies. Unfortunately, at the moment, it is earning very little on its assets, and its assets are worth very much more than the Stock Exchange values them at the present time. It pays its directors considerable sums of money. I do not say this in criticism of the board of directors, necessarily, but the general picture of the company's affairs leaves much to be desired. I do not think that the Government could say that they are so satisfied with the management of the company that they will depart from normal procedure and make an exception and say that while they put directors on other companies where public money is involved they feel it quite unnecessary in this case.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I am sure that the Minister will reject the Amendment. I have listened to the arguments carefully, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams). He wandered somewhat off the point into the general business of the Cunard Company and into criticisms of the directors which were entirely unfounded.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to various subsidies paid to smaller companies, including the Orkney company. He said that if we are to subsidise the losses of a company the least we can do is to have someone on the board. 718 But this is an entirely different case. The Amendment suggests that because a loan is made on terms in respect of one ship only, a large company owning many ships should have on its board Government-appointed directors to control the whole business of that company.
§ Mr. Rankin
Is the hon. and learned Member trying to lead us to believe that there will be only one payment in this case? Does he not realise from the terms of the White Paper that payments will be continuing for a number of years?
§ Mr. Diamond
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member would not wish to pursue the argument on the basis of a complete misunderstanding. It is not the case that there is any suggestion of directors being appointed to the Cunard Company. This is a small company being separately formed. Cunard will put in the cash by way of share capital and will appoint directors itself. It is only suggested that for that small company, governing one ship, the Minister shall be entitled to appoint two of the directors.
§ Mr. Doughty
Yes, but it is a ship run by Cunard White Star in conjunction with other big and small companies. If we appoint directors to this suggested small company, naturally they will have an interest in the direction of the whole company. I agree that we should get out of the business as soon as we can after we have had our money back and that the Cunard Company should go on operating its ships and, in particular, this ship for the sake of prestige.
This is what I had in mind at the very first in supporting the Bill. The United States has for some time been carrying a larger number of passengers, on what may be an uneconomic basis, than we have, and the French are rapidly completing another prestige ship. Are we to fall out of that race altogether? That might well be the position if this loan is not granted. I see no necessity or reason for the appointment of Government directors. I appreciate the humour in the suggestions made as to the people who might be appointed, but I disagree with them. I think that those 719 people should and will remain in the House of Commons for many years.
§ Mr. Grimond
As far as I am aware, we have never paid annual subsidies to Anglo-Iranian but the Government appoint directors. Would the hon. and learned Member be in favour of the appointment of directors only if there is an annual subsidy?
§ Mr. Doughty
No, but if a shipping company could not run at a profit and wanted a Government subsidy and it was thought wise that for some reason or other that line should continue to operate and should have an annual payment from the Government, it might well be right that there should be directors on the board to represent the Government's interest and to see that the loss did not become excessive over the years, but it would be necessary to go into the matter first in great detail if such an occasion arose.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Has my hon. and learned Friend studied the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) for the appointment of a Government director to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.?
§ Mr. Doughty
I was not a Member of the House of Commons at that time and this is certainly not a question of running an oil company. I think that for a shipping line the point I have made is perfectly sound. Although it has been said that the profits of this company are dropping it is faced with the strongest air competition of any shipping line. If any information is required on what the company is doing, there is no reason why it should not give it to the Government, to the Opposition, or to any hon. Member.
§ Mr. Doughty
I did not go quite as far as that. I said that it might be a reason for doing so, but that we should have to go into greater detail when the case arose.
§ Mr. Bence
May I take it that if the Government pay a subsidy in some form or another to a priavte company running some private enterprise, like a ship, the hon. and learned Member would consider that in those circumstances he might support the appointment of a director or directors to that company? We have been told that this company could not run in competition with the United States a liner of this quality by borrowing on the money market, because the interest rates are too high and, therefore, the Cunard Company should be allowed to borrow at a lower interest rate.
During the ten years that I have been a Member of this House I have always understood that when there has been a demand for a lower interest rate for a non-commercial project—and we have been told that this is such a project—hon. Members opposite have said that this is a hidden subsidy. The hon. and learned Member is now facing a proposition that here is a company which is to receive a hidden subsidy for twenty years, because it is not paying commercial interest rates but Public Works Loan Board rates. Would the hon. and learned Member, on his own ground, support the appointment of a director to this subsidiary company? This is a subsidiary company of both Cunard and the Government. It is not the Cunard White Star Company Limited, but another company set up with Cunard personnel and Government money.
I have seen this sort of thing happen before in my lifetime. I worked for many years in a company which was a family business. It wanted capital to expand. It obtained it from Ocean Trust and the next time we met some of the "top brass" there were directors from Ocean Trust among them. This happens usually when banks or insurance companies put in money for the expansion of private enterprise. One finds one of their nominees on the board.
§ Mr. Bence
Yes, usually, but it depends on the amount of money put in.
Here is a separate company being set up and the only directors going into the company are being nominated by Cunard, whereas most of the money comes from the Government and it is 721 money in the form of a subsidy because it is money at a lower interest rate. I presume that the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East is opposing the appointment of Government directors.
§ Mr. Bence
Perhaps the Minister will accept their appointment. He is a reasonable man. He has been a director of a company and no doubt he has had to work with directors of banks and insurance companies many times in the past in the course of the expansion of his own business. In the case of this company, where so much Government money is involved, and where it is admitted on all sides that this is a doubtful proposition and may not be profitable, we certainly should have a director or directors on the board to represent the Government and the taxpayers. I hope that the Minister will approve this proposal.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett)
I very much appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) moved the Amendment. We realise that his sole intention was to strengthen my right hon. Friend's hand.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The fact is that my right hon. Friend thinks that in this context his hand is quite strong enough already.
Our objection to the Amendment is not based on any fundamental question of principle. Nothing of the kind. Our objection is simply that we think that the Amendment is unnecessary. We think that Government directors for this company would serve no useful purpose. They would not be necessary to ensure that the company carries out the Government's intention in providing financial assistance—that is to say, the running of the North Atlantic express service—because that will be fully secured by the terms of the agreement, including the management agreement.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that it is proper for me to go through the whole Clause now. I am 722 referring to the agreement outlined in the White Paper which will in due course be incorporated in the formal agreement.
§ Mr. Mellish
The Memorandum to the Bill says specifically that the formal agreements have not yet been completed, and it gives some idea of those points which have been agreed. We do not know whether, at the end of the day, the formal agreement will be different from the Memorandum.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I should be out of order to go into this matter now. There was an Amendment on this subject which was not selected. No doubt the subject could be raised in the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
We consider that the terms of the agreement will suffice to keep the Government properly informed about what the company are doing. It includes, among other things, the submission of quarterly accounts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) suggested that directors would be needed to prevent the Cunard Company from baling out of the North Atlantic service. They cannot do anything of the kind because the loan is provided under the agreement which they will have to sign with the Government to maintain that service. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend realises that the company which we are discussing is the Q.3 company, which will own only the Q.3. It is the only ship which the company will have. Under that agreement the vessel must be operated on the North Atlantic service. He also wondered what would happen if we had no ship. If we do not have the ship, the company will not be formed and there will be no directors.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Let us assume that, after the ship has been constructed, within a few years the company finds that it does not pay to run the ship, bales out of the North Atlantic service with this ship and hands the ship over to the Government. Presumably the Government will then appoint directors. What will they do? Have the ship broken up?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The right hon. Gentleman has raised many hypothetical questions. Again, I do not 723 think that I should be in order, on the Amendment, in discussing what action the Government would take if the company were obliged to go into liquidation—that is what it comes to—and the Q.3, the only ship owned by the company, fell into Government hands. If that unhappy event occurred, which is most unlikely, and if by chance the Conservative Party was in power, I have no doubt that we should think of some constructive purpose on which the ship could be employed.
§ Mr. Rankin
We are under a very severe difficulty. We are being asked to take serious decisions about an agreement which has not yet been ratified. The Committee ought not to be put in such a position. May we have an assurance that the answers which would be out of order now will be given on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill?
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Charles Royle)
Order. The hon. Member must know the terms of his own Amendment. It deals simply with the appointment of two directors. It seems to me that his comments are outside the scope of the Amendment.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am obliged to you, Mr. Royle.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) used arguments which I am bound to say I had some difficulty in following, except in so far as they seemed to repeat some of the points which had already been made in support of the Amendment. With great respect to the Leader of the Liberal Party, I began to wonder whether he had studied the Bill in detail or read the White Paper in detail. I was on firmer ground in understanding his case when he said that the Government proposed to make an exception in this instance by not appointing directors. I assure him that that is not so.
The hon. Member for Govan and others have said a good deal about the British Petroleum Company and the 1914 agreement.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am sorry if the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not understand my argument. May I put this 724 point to him? In a parallel case which the Government are carrying on at the same time they are appointing directors. What is the difference between those two cases? That is not a very complicated point to put to him, nor is it difficult to understand, and I should like an answer.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I did not wish to weary the Committee, but I was about to come to some of the other companies in which the Government have an interest and in which they either do or do not appoint directors. The first to which I refer, the British Petroleum Company, has been mentioned a number of times. The Government's interest in the British Petroleum Company is largely a strategic interest. It was a venture which involved great political questions and great issues of foreign policy. The hon. Member for Govan said that he thought that the same sort of problems would arise with the Q.3 company. I can only say that I hope that he turns out to be wrong. The circumstances were very different indeed.
The hon. Member for Govan also mentioned the case of Messrs. MacBrayne. There is a difference in that company because a substantial annual subsidy to cover operating losses, apart from the original capital, is given by the Government to ensure the maintenance of a socially necessary service. The appointment of a Government director in that case is justified in order to keep the Government in constant touch.
§ Mr. Diamond
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member does not want to mislead the House. Is he seriously suggesting that if this company made a profit in any year the Government director would straightaway be whipped out and we should have to wait until the company again made a loss and needed a subsidy, and then we should put the director back again? Is he suggesting that nonsensical arrangement for Messrs. MacBrayne?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am suggesting nothing of the kind. I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) was on a strong point when he drew attention to the difference between Government aid in the form of a once-for-all loan and Government aid which 725 involved underwriting any potential loss. The two cases are not on all fours.
There is no general rule that the Government are represented on the boards of companies when public moneys are either directly or indirectly involved. There are four types of company in which the Government participate. There is, first, the Government trading companies which are wholly owned, such as Cable & Wireless, and in that case there are Government directors. Secondly, there are joint companies, that is to say, those in which the Government have a permanent interest jointly with other parties, such as British Petroleum; and there again, Government directors are appointed. Thirdly, there is the category of administrative companies in which the Government intend to maintain complete control although they do not wish to have Departmental responsibility. An example is the N.A.A.F.I. Here again, Government directors are appointed.
But the most numerous category of companies in which the Government have an interest is that of independent companies which work for profit and in which the Government have some temporary interest as a creditor or a guarantor. The Q.3 company falls into this last category. In this last group there is no universal rule about the appointment of directors. The most numerous companies in this category are those helped under the D.A.T.A.C. agreement. I concede at once that in the Act which governs these companies the Government took power to appoint directors where they so minded.
That was necessary because, in certain cases, it was thought desirable to strengthen the boards. When the Act was before Parliament, and, indeed, at any given moment, no one could say with certainty which events would be involved in future and which would not. I inquired into the position about a month ago and found that about 300 companies were helped under this agreement, but that in only seven cases had the Government right to appoint directors been exercised. The question before us is what special contribution a Government director could make in this case.
§ Mr. Willey
This point was dealt with by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), but has not 726 been answered by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South called attention to the fact that the Minister had stated that this was a prestige venture—a point which has been challenged by the chairman of the Cunard Company. But we have to assume for our purpose that the Minister is correct. Surely, then, this is just the sort of matter where Government representation is demanded. A Government director on the board would be very helpful.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
That is the question I was just about to address myself to when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me.
I was asking what special contribution a Government director could make. There are no political aspects to the business, and I hope there will not be. The Treasury already has access to the accounts, which have to be prepared and submitted quarterly. The dividend policy is closely circumscribed until after the loan has been repaid. I am sure that it will be conceded that any director whom the Government could choose—despite the humorous suggestions which have been made—is unlikely to know more about the running of the North Atlantic route than the present directors of the company.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
May not there be some conflict of interest between the Cunard Company and the Q.3 company on some occasions? The business on this route will become extremely competitive and there may be a conflict of interest from time to time. In those circumstances, it would be desirable to have someone on the Q.3 board representing the public interest.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Even if the lion. Gentleman were right—which I doubt—the financial safeguards written into the agreement are quite sufficient to secure the interests of the Government loan. Furthermore, the appointment of two Government directors would in itself be insufficient to carry the day on the board, unless they were given special powers of veto. There are great disadvantages in putting in Government directors if they are armed with exceptional powers. In certain cases it must be done, but the objection is that other countries tend to regard such companies 727 as essentially State concerns. That would be unjustified in this case, in view of the relatively small scale of the direct Government support.
That support represents 11 per cent. of the capital cost of the ship, as my right hon. Friend has explained. I made inquiries of the company about what element in the cost of the average fare it thought was represented by the capital as a whole. It took an average fare of slightly over £100 and found that about £30 is accounted for by the cost of the capital—the paying of the interest and the repayment of the loan. Eleven per cent. of that £30 is between £3 and £4. Thus, only slightly over £3 worth of the average fare is contributed, as it were, by the taxpayer. That is a very small percentage.
I want to remind the Committee of the very considerable subsidies paid by the American Government and by the French Government. As my right hon. Friend has said, 58 per cent. of the capital cost of the "United States" was paid by the American Government, who, in addition, pay 28 per cent. of the operating costs. Of course, when subsidies on that scale are paid, there is a case for having Government directors.
The French Government contribute 20 per cent. of the capital cost and underwrite the whole of the operating losses. That is a very different proposition. But in this case we feel that the extent of the Government support is sufficiently small, and the control that will be secured under the terms of the agreement is sufficiently close, to render this Amendment unnecessary.
§ Mr. Mellish
On this side of the Committee we are very disappointed with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply. I do not follow the logic of his argument that £18 million out of £30 million is a small amount of money and a small subsidy, and that we should not look at it in the sense of being heavily committed. We do not expect the Minister himself to be seized of this, but we thought that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would recognise that there is grave disagreement on both sides of the Committee about the Bill and about the money being spent for this purpose. Above all, as he had heard from his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, 728 South (Mr. P. Williams) and others of his hon. Friends, and also from many of my hon. Friends, it is obvious that we should have an even greater and stricter Government control in this matter.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there was no need for this because the Government had so much control already. Is that so? He accused the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) of not having read the Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's homework is up to date either. Most of us have read the Explanatory Memorandum, which makes it clear that no formal agreement has been signed. The Bill contains weird and wonderful wording. Clause 1 (2) reads:… sums advanced by the Minister under the foregoing subsection shall be by way of loan repayable at such times as may be agreed between the Minister and the Company and shall carry interest at such rate and on such other terms as may be so agreed.There is no formal agreement. The Government say that there is no need for them to be represented on the board of directors because they already have control. But control over what? The whole thing is ambiguous. Many hon. Members disagree with the principle. We have read that the board of the Cunard Company is split down the middle on the question of whether there should be a Q.3 company. Is that true? It has been reported in the Press. There has been a stormy meeting of shareholders.
§ Mr. Marples
In fairness to the board—which the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent—I should point out that the chairman wrote a letter to The Times in which he said that the board was united.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. In the original report of the shareholders meeting it was stated that there had been a row and that protests had been made, including from the platform.
§ Mr. Marples rose—
§ Mr. Mellish
The right hon. Gentleman need not worry. I am quite willing to accept that there is unanimity on the board. But the relevance of the shareholders' arguments and of earlier reports supports the view that we should have a 729 Government representative on the board of this new company.
I say to Northern Ireland Members in this Committee that it is obvious that Northern Ireland will not get the contract. It might well be that we could have a Northern Ireland director on the board to see if some sub-contracts could go there.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
If it is obvious that Northern Ireland is not to get the contract, then that surely must be a subject of great misery in the ranks of the Opposition. In Stormont, the Northern Ireland Labour Party has declared time and again that this contract should be directed to Northern Ireland, and I understand that some Members opposite had discussions with Northern Ireland Labour Party representatives last week. I have not heard Members opposite voicing this belief before. I should be glad to hear the hon. Member clarify his statement.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am glad to help the hon. Lady. It is interesting to see that some of the Northern Ireland Members are here to discuss the Bill. That is a change. They were missing when the issue of the Bill was to be discussed before. If the hon. Lady is up to date in her political theories, she will know that the Prime Minister is already committed to
§ giving the order to the Clyde. If it is not given to the Clyde, there will be an unholy row.
§ Mr. Mellish
I answer it now by saying that I firmly believe that the Clyde will get this order to keep up the prestige of the Prime Minister and the letter he wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence).
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
It would be better if the Committee came back to the Amendment and dealt with the point under discussion.
§ Mr. Mellish
With all these conditions which prevail in the Bill, never was a case more justified for the Government to have a representative on the board of directors. It is for that reason and for the others given by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), who so ably moved the Amendment, that we on this side will certainly press it to a Division.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 120, Noes 183.731
|Division No. 231.]||AYES||[6.31 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Galtskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Cordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||King, Dr. Horace|
|Bence, Cyril||Gourlay, Harry||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Benson, Sir George||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llaneliy)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Blyton, William||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Llpton, Marcus|
|Bowles, Frank||Grimond, J.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Boyden, James||Gunter, Ray||Mclnnes, James|
|Brookway, A. Fenner||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mackle, John (Enfield, East)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hannan, William||McLeavy, Frank|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Chapman, Donald||Hayman, F. H.||Marquancl, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Chetwynd, George||Healey, Denis||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn, Arthur(Rwly Regis)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hilton, A. V.||Milne, Edward J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Holman, Percy||MonsJow, Walter|
|Cronin, John||Houghton, Douglas||Moyle, Arthur|
|Darling, George||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Baker,Rt.Hn.Phiiip(Derby,S.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hunter, A. E.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Oram, A. E.|
|Deer, George||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paget, R. T.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Diamond, John||Janner, Sir Barnett||Parker, John|
|Driberg, Tom||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Jeger, George||Peart, Frederick|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jenkins, Roy (8techford)||Popplttwell, Ernest|
|Evans, Albert||Johnson, Carol (Lewlsham, S)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Fletcher, Eric||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creeeh(Wakefield)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Randall, Hairy|
|Rankin, John||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Weltzman, David|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Stones, William||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Rosa, William||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)||Willey, Frederick|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Swingler, Stephen||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Skeffington, Arthur||Tomney, Frank||Woof, Robert|
|Snow, Julian||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Warbey, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Lawson and Mr. Redhead.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Glover, Sir Douglas||Mott-Raddyffe, Sir Charles|
|Aitken, W. T.||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Noble, Michael|
|Allason, James||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian||Goodhew, Victor||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Green, Alan||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Gretham Cooke, R.||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Barber, Anthony||Grimston, Sir Robert||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdaie)|
|Batsford, Brian||Curden, Harold||Peel, John|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Percival, Ian|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Pickthom, Sir Kenneth|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Pitman, Sir James|
|Bell, Ronald||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||pott, perclvan|
|Bennett, Or. Reginald (Got & Fhm)||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Bingham, R. M.||Hastings, Stephen||Pym, Francis|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hay, John||Queimett, Miss J. M.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bossom, Clive||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Renton, David|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hiley, Joseph||Rtdsdate, Julian|
|Braine, Bernard||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Brewls, John||Holland, Philip||Roberta, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Bromley-Davenport.Lt.-Col.SirWalter||Hopkins, Alan||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, 5.)|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Hornby, R. P.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Bryan, Paul||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Russell, Ronald|
|Buck, Antony||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Shaw,M-|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Hughes-Young, Michael||Slmon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn|
|Carr, Common (Barons Court)||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntfrd & Chiswick)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Smlthers, Peter|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Iremonger, T. L.||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Chataway, Christopher||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Chiohester-Clark, R.||Jackson, John||Speir, Rupert|
|James, David||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Jennings, J. C.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cooke, Robert||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Teeling, William|
|Cooper, A. E.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Kershaw, Anthony||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Leburn, Gilmour||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Cordle, John||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Thomton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Corfield, F. V.||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Turner, Colin|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||Litchfield, Capt. John||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Critchley, Julian||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wlrral)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Crowder, F. P.||Loveys, Walter H.||van Straubenzee, w. R.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Curran, Charles||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Currie, C. B. H.||McAdden, Stephen||Walder, David|
|Dance, James||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Walker, Peter|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Maclean,SirFitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs.)||Wall, Patrick|
|Deedes, W. F.||McMaster, Stanley II.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)||Whltelaw, William|
|Doughty, Charles||Maddan, Martin||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Duthie, Sir William||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn, Sir R.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Eden, John||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Finlay, Graeme||Marshall, Douglas||Woollam, John|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maxwell-Hyalop, R. J.|
|Gam mans, Lady||Mills, Stratton||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gardner, Edward||Montgomery, Fergus||Mr. J. E. B. Hill and|
|Gibson-Watt, David||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Mr. G. Campbell.|
§ The following Amendment stood upon the Notice Paper:
In page 1, line 15, after "rate" insert:
being not less than one per cent. above the rate prescribed by the Treasury for loans by
the Public Works Loan Board repayable by annuity over a period of twenty-five years.
§ Mr. Diamond
I do not wish to move the Amendment in my name, Sir 733 William. I imagine that the discussion on this matter can properly take place on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and, as many other hon. Members are anxious to speak, I hope that the course I have adopted will be convenient to the Committee.
§ Mr. Mellish
I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 10 to 15.
I will not take up much time, and I hope that in replying the Minister will follow my example. We want an explanation of this part of the Clause. What has the Minister in mind? What principles will be applied? Can the Minister give us a general idea of what this part of the Clause means? We do not understand it.
§ Mr. Marples
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point shortly. Perhaps I can explain it in this way. Originally, the Chandos Committee recommended that the Government should give a loan of £18 million at 4½ per cent. In effect, that was a lower rate of interest than the normal Public Works Loan Board rate, and the difference between 4½ per cent. and the rate of the Public Works Loan Board was, in effect, a concealed subsidy by giving art artificially low rate of interest.
The Government accepted that the amount of assistance to be given to Cunard should be as laid down in the formula devised by the Chandos Committee, but that it should not be carried out in exactly that form. The Government decided that it should not be a concealed subsidy, that it should be an open subsidy and be seen to be an open subsidy. The Government therefore decided that instead of giving £18 million at 4½ per cent., which is an artificially low rate, they would divide the loan into two parts.
There will be a loan lower than £18 million, but it will be at the rate of the Public Works Loan Board rate, and we shall make up the difference by a grant as set out in the words proposed to be left out by the Amendment. The effect will be the same. If, for example, the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest shoots up, the outright grant 734 which will have to given will be increased. It is difficult to put all this into legal language, but the effect of it will be that the amount given to the Cunarder will be divided into two parts, a loan plus a grant, which together will be equivalent to a loan of the total sum of £18 million at a rate of 4½ per cent. as recommended by the Chandos Committee.
There is nothing mysterious about this. The only reason for raising the amount is in case the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest is increased. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that explanation.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Strauss
I propose that this Clause should not remain part of the Bill. I want to advance briefly a number of reasons which I hope will corn-mend themselves to the Committee in support of the attitude I am expressing on behalf of my colleagues.
The first reason is that the Government have accepted none of the Amendments we moved earlier today or on the other occasions of the Committee stage of the Bill which we thought were essential to protect the taxpayer. We suggested that there should be two directors appointed by the Minister on the board; that there should be some participation of profits if there are any profits; and we suggested, in particular, that the loan should be reduced by £6 million, the approximate sum which it will cost the Cunard Company to buy the aeroplanes which will compete both with the Cunard Company and with the B.O.A.C. None of those Amendments were accepted, and therefore the financial provisions of the Clause make it wholly unacceptable to us.
There are a number of other reasons why I think that the Committee should reject this Clause. They are based on events which have occurred since the Second Reading of the Bill and which, in our opinion, make it imperative for the Committee to reconsider very carefully this large loan and subsidy to the 735 Cunard Company. It is all taxpayers money.
The first thing which has happened is that we have been told on impeccable authority that the two Ministers mainly responsible for the passage of the Bill, in spite of what they said during the Second Reading debate, are in their hearts opposed to its provisions. We have been told that by a responsible Member, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). He wrote an article in the Evening Standard in which he was specific. He made it clear that he disliked this Bill, and that that view was shared by many hon. Gentlemen opposite. He went on to say that the Minister of Transport was—not to blame for this Measure and the proposed deal with the Cunard Company. He wrote:He is not to blame. Indeed, there is little doubt that he dislikes the subsidy as much as anybody elseHe then referred to the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who commended the Bill to us on Second Reading, and said about him:You may be sure that he dislikes this subsidy.We may often disagree with the views of the hon. Gentleman, but we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his factual statements.
The Committee is therefore in the position of considering a Bill to which the Government are committed because of an off-the-cuff election statement by the Prime Minister made before there had been any technical inquiry into the merits of the proposal. The Chandos Committee investigations took place after the promise by the Prime Minister. It is a Bill to which the Government were pledged in most curious circumstances; a Bill which is opposed by a considerable section of the Conservative Party; a Bill which is opposed by much of the Press which normally supports the Conservative Party, and a Bill which has only the half-hearted support of the senior Ministers of the Cabinet who were responsible for presenting it to this House.
We must take those matters into account when deciding whether to agree to this Clause. It is clear that the Minister of Transport and the Chancellor of 736 the Exchequer, if what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said is true, are in an unhappy dilemma. When we suggest that the Clause should be rejected, we are doing the two Ministers concerned a service by rescuing them from this dilemma.
Another factor has arisen. There is considerable opposition to this proposal from the Government's partners in this venture, the shareholders of the Cunard Company. We have been told that the board is unanimous about this. We know from letters written and the views expressed on the matter by Mr. Gregory, a very active shareholder, that some—and he maintains the majority—of the shareholders in the Cunard Company are opposed to this venture. We do not know whether that is true, but it appears likely. Mr. Gregory has no doubts about it.
Should we, in those circumstances, endorse the agreement which we have been asked to endorse by passing a Clause whose provisions are opposed by many sections of the Conservative Party and by the Conservative Press, as well as by many shareholders in the company? If we do that it seems to me that we shall be endorsing a marriage between two partners, one of whom is hesitant and the other reluctant. Can such a marriage be a happy one?
We have also had views expressed by Sir John Brocklebank, who made it clear that the board, in contrast with its previous position, is not so confident about the future as it was when the agreement was drawn up. If the ship is to cost more than £30 million it wants to withdraw from the arrangement. That, again, should make us hesitant.
But the last and most important thing that has happened since the Second Reading debate which the Committee must take into account is that at the time of that debate there was a possibility that the company would want to enter the trans-Atlantic air service through Cunard-Eagle. That has been changed from a possibility into an established fact. When considering the application of the Cunard-Eagle Company, Professor Jacks said that the money that the Cunard Company proposed to invest in the new "Queen" ship was irrelevant to the Licensing Board. He was quite right. But it is 737 very relevant to our consideration this evening, when we are asking ourselves whether the Government should lend large sums of public money to a company for the part purpose of facilitating it to compete with the Government and severely damage a publicly-owned industry.
As a result of the money that it will receive under the Clause, the Cunard Company is likely to damage a publicly-owned industry in two ways. It will do so, of course, indirectly, as it is not exactly the same money that is lent under this Clause which the company will use for the purchase of its two aircraft, but indirectly the loan to the company will facilitate it in purchasing the aircraft and damaging B.O.A.C. in two ways.
First, there will be a considerable reduction in the revenue of B.O.A.C., which the Corporation estimates as being £5 million a year gross, and it may well turn a profitable State-owned enterprise into a losing one. Secondly, it will impair the position of B.O.A.C. as the national standard bearer in world civil aviation. We can fully appreciate the attitude of the Cunard Company. If it can obtain taxpayers' money to finance the major part of a doubtful venture—the new "Queen" ship—thereby being enabled to use its resources to invest in the launching of an enterprise which promises to be profitable, then from the point of view of the company it is all good business. But the profit it makes out of its aircraft venture will be at the expense of the taxpayers who lent it the money for the venture. That fact is irrelevant to the company, but it is very relevant to us, the protectors of the public interest, and also to the Chancellor, the guardian of the taxpayers' purse. We invite him to veto the mad transaction which we are now being asked to agree to.
If he and the Government are still of the opinion that a large loan should be made for this ship, which may lose large sums of money, he should not consider granting such a loan under conditions which make it certain that, as a result, the taxpayer will lose many millions of pounds in a State-owned industry.
It seems to us that the course open to the Minister and the Chancellor is 738 simple and reasonable. They should say to the Cunard Company, "All right. We have made this agreement. We still believe that it is right, and we will give you the loan and the subsidy. But when we entered into this agreement with you we had no idea that you, with your own substantial resources, were proposing to compete with a State-owned industry and to damage that industry. You told us that you had no money to spare. We will lend you the money only if you abandon this proposal."
We believe that the Government should say this to the company. It would be in the interest of the country and the taxpayers. We doubt whether they will do so as we know their attitude, and the extent to which they are committed. We can only press them to do so, and protest as strongly as we can against the present attitude of the Government and the muddle that they have got themselves into; and indicate our views by voting against this Clause.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I want to follow some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and, in particular, to draw attention to the very different approach of the Government in their relations with private industry and private enterprise, on the one hand, and public enterprise and State corporations, on the other. All through the actions of the Government—and especially in the provisions of Clause 1—we see all the privileges being given to private enterprise and all the obstacles being placed in the way of the nationalised undertakings.
It seems to me that the Government are afraid that the corporation is doing too well. It is too good an advertisement for a nationalised undertaking, and the Government will do everything in their power to see that it fails. It is precisely because of this Jekyll and Hyde behaviour of the Government that we must oppose the Clause. Preferential treatment for Cunard does not square with the difficulties that the Government are putting in the way of the corporations in their efforts to be successful.
We have been given the flimsiest ground for this grant to the company. The argument about prestige has never been proved. Some people say that the loan will be made for prestige purposes, 739 but others discount that. The only argument that we would find it difficult to oppose is the argument that, somewhere, in some part of a distressed area, this action may at some time provide additional employment. Just where that will be is anybody's guess. I incline to the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that it is more likely to be in Scotland than anywhere else.
No consideration has been given to the economic case in this instance. The Cunard Company shows remarkably little confidence in the future of its shipping. It has gone into the air business in a big way. When we see the company trying to have it both ways; when it wants a ship with public money and competition in the air with private money, to provide an air service which will deal a crippling blow to a successful national corporation, it is time for us to protest in the strongest terms.
The recent decision of the Air Transport Licensing Board will strike a very grave blow at B.O.A.C. At the same time, we have had Government protestations that they seek to do no harm to our national flag carrier in aviation.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It would be wrong to criticise the Licensing Board in a discussion on this Clause. What we are concerned with is whether the Government should grant money to build a vessel.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I think that I am in order in saying that the same Government use a different standard of judgment in one case and another. In one case, we have the Government giving money to private enterprise to compete, by means of another body, against public corporations. That was clearly shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and I was just following it up to show that any diversion of traffic from B.O.A.C. makes it more difficult for B.O.A.C. to fulfil the Government's conditions.
Those conditions were laid down in a Government White Paper entitled "The Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries". My point is that the Government apply this set of standards to public money and say that 740 revenue surpluses should be at least sufficient to cover deficits over a five-year period, provision being made for certain depreciation and contingency reserves, and that each industry should have a financial target for the next five years. If the Government are as tough as that with the nationalised industries, why are they not equally tough with private industries? Why do they make it so easy for private industries to get money while, at the same time, they make it more and more difficult for nationally-owned enterprises to carry on?
The case has been made that Cunard, not knowing where its future will lie, is trying to back two horses; taking its share, perhaps, of Government money, and hoping to make large profits from the air without having borne the heat and burden of the day in putting those air services into operation. If this is the Government's pattern of thinking as the next step, if they are to bolster private industry to this extent, if they are to make it more and more difficult for public enterprise to succeed and, as a result of that policy, the nationalised undertakings fail, do the Government then intend to come along and push those out, too, to private enterprise?
If that is so, it must be resisted. The Cunard is getting the best of both the air and sea worlds. I thought that it was one of the fundamental concepts of the Conservative philosophy that private capitalism should take risks, whereas public corporations were supposed to be protected by a monopoly, and so on. Here, however, the risk of the whole venture is not being borne by private enterprise. There is no risk, because private enterprise is more or less guaranteed by Government loan against loss, and, where there is a risk, the Government are taking the burden. Where there is no risk, now that the profitable North Atlantic air traffic routes are open to it, private enterprise is coming in. The Government have to bear the risk all along.
The Cunard Steamship Company is assisting Cunard Eagle Airways, the holding company, in the purchase of two Boeing Aircraft just because the £6 million that it will take to establish the company in the air business is made easier for it to get by Government action in making money available for shipping. 741 If Cunard were not getting this help with the ship. It is very doubtful whether the company could go ahead with its aircraft venture, which is bound to impinge on the public corporation.
At this time, both Cunard and the Government should think again. Sea travel between the United Kingdom and the United States is dwindling by about 4 per cent. each year, and is now 22 per cent. less than it was five years ago. The share that sea travel has in the total air and sea market has fallen by over half during the last five years—from 60 per cent. to 29 per cent. The industry should be thinking very seriously of putting its money into, perhaps, nuclear-powered shipping. If Cunard is serious about its air venture—and, having a licence for fifteen years, it ought to think fifteen years' ahead—I think that it would be wiser for it to put its money into supersonic air travel rather than into a prestige "Queen".
It is quite indefensible to think of providing £18 million of public money at this time to build a new liner when the Government's own policy is crippling the air corporations. The Government regard the lending of public money for private profit as the right thing to do, but that to lend public money to public enterprise for public profit is wrong. All the time they are restricting public enterprise and encouraging private enterprise.
It is altogether wrong that the company should now be going ahead with this project, bolstered by Government finance, and I hope very much that, even at this late stage, we can oppose it. In these circumstances, it is up to the Cunard Company to justify a public subsidy. As it has failed to do that, and as the Government have failed to explain why the company's own money should not be used in this venture, I support my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
This Clause embodies the main substance of the Bill and, before we part with it, I feel it incumbent to add one last word. When the Bill first came before the House some of us had doubts, and I must say that since then my doubts have steadily increased. Originally, we were all assailed by doubts about certain factors which at this stage it is quite 742 unnecessary to rehearse. There is the problem of air rivalry over the Atlantic and there, though the figures may be in dispute, I think that the general trend is accepted. There is the principle of the aid given, and the particular circumstances in which it is being given.
To those factors I would add a feeling that I have throughout held very strongly. It is that in many board rooms excellent decisions are reached. In the Cabinet, excellent decisions are reached. In theory, when we put the two together, we should get a doubly-safeguarded decision—but we do not. In reality, we are very apt to get a mistake. It is the combination of factors in this proposal that has, from the very start, caused most of my own misgivings. It is when two different parties for two different reasons are starting one project that error is most likely to creep in.
I must say that since we began to discuss this Bill—which means this Clause—events have not moved in favour of the proposal. There have been developments, with which we are all familiar, over Eagle Airways; and the words of the chairman at the inquiry, the significance of which I cannot get altogether out of my mind. I will not go over them again, but they hold with me now. I have the feeling, and I hope that I am right, that the company now has its eyes fixed on more distant horizons; in air travel, perhaps, the possibility of supersonic aircraft, and so on. I am all in favour of that, but it does not necessarily increase my confidence in this particular project.
In addition, we have the attitude struck by the company's shareholders themselves—that is none of our business, and I would not seek to exaggerate whatever Mr. Gregory or his supporter may or may not do. That is, and should be, outside our range. But we do need a stable basis if the project is to be a success, and I do not see any great signs of stability, certainly since the annual general meeting of the company.
There is the news we have, through different channels, of the shipbuilding industry and its competitive capacity, which must enter very largely into whether or not the ship will be a success. The cumulative changes of circumstance, not just since we began to discuss 743 the Bill but since the main decision was taken, have been rather formidable, and I cannot be the only one who is wondering what Lord Chandos and his colleagues might have reported had they been considering this project early in this year rather than when they did. I should like to be told—perhaps we can be told—what single factor in, say, the last twelve months has arisen, or moved in favour of this proposal, which we may calculate makes more hopeful the outcome of this provision.
My right hon. Friend, who has held very firmly to this course, feels it essential that we should retain our leadership in the North Atlantic and that this in effect is a condition of holding that leadership. He said that on Second Reading and there is great force in that argument, certainly among people who love great ships. I have never been under any illusion that the bulk of the people of this country are still in favour of a very big ship to uphold the traditions and everything we have established for Britain on the North Atlantic route. I agree with my right hon. Friend as to the importance of maintaining our leadership in the North Atlantic, but the question is: with what shall we hold that leadership between 1965 and 1990?
Although we may resolve the financial equation between now and earlier than 1990, this is the essence of what we are discussing. I shall not prolong the discusion, but I have alway felt a difficulty because I regard this Bill as an obligation. Hon. Members opposite have no such feeling, and I do not blame them, but I have. Now that the Clause is on the slipway and presumably is to be launched, I think that the obligation is discharged, yet even now I hope that wiser counsels may prevail elsewhere before the nation is irretrievably committed to a venture which, other things being equal, we shall today invest with a certain amount of political responsibility.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I feel it almost ungallant to say anything more about this terribly friendless little Bill, but I want to say a word or two about how the financial provisions add up in the light of events which have taken place, as referred to by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), since Second Reading and since much of the Committee stage also.
744 As I understand, under this Clause we shall be providing the Cunard Company with £18 million, partly on loan and partly in direct gift. It is inescapable that part of the effect of doing that will be not only to enable the Cunard Company to build this vessel but most materially to assist it to invest £6 million in its new air venture of Cunard Eagle. It is impossible for the Cunard Company or anyone else to say that it is to keep this money in two separate pockets. There can be no doubt that if we lend a man £18 million it materially assists him to invest £6 million in something else. We cannot divide these two transactions.
We are enabling the Cunard Eagle Company to invest £6 million in the new air route which, since we last discussed this matter, it has received a licence to operate. We are assured by the spokesman of B.O.A.C.—and we must accept its evidence—that this is likely to cost B.O.A.C. £5 million per annum in public money. Therefore, in passing this Clause we are expending, not £18 million, but £23 million of public money in the first year and, with the continuing liability of £5 million, more loss of public money per annum. So the financial picture is very much more black than it was even when we discussed the matter before.
Nor is that all. We must remember that a substantial part of the £6 million which Cunard Eagle proposes to invest, and is to be so materially helped to invest, in its air route is to be spent on the purchase of two American aircraft which, therefore, will be dollar expenditure. Not only is the public account to be debited by £23 million in the first year and £5 million each year thereafter, but a substantial sum in millions of pounds is to fall on foreign exchange and will be used in purchasing dollar aircraft which would not have been purchased if this Clause were not passed.
That unquestionably is the effect of this Clause, coupled with the action of the Air Transport Licensing Board in granting Cunard Eagle a licence. Far be it from me to discuss whether the Board was right or not to grant that licence. We on this side of the Committee are to seek an early opportunity to discuss that matter, but it would 745 obviously not be discussable this afternoon. What is discussable is the financial effect of that decision which very much worsens the financial consequences of passing this Clause.
I ask the Minister to justify this further and very substantial charge, partly in dollars, on public funds which it is now fully apparent to the Committee is to fall on them as a result of passing this Bill. That essentially is the angle from which I approach the matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and other hon. Friends have exhaustively traversed the merits in general of the Bill.
It might be asked why we object only to the particulars of the Bill and not to the Bill as a whole. That is because there is one defence of the Bill. I do not think there is any doubt that the Bill is an unemployment relief measure to the shipbuilding industry. For that I have great sympathy. At this moment there is a strong case for spending public money to keep skilled shipyard workers together in teams and to keep the industry on its feet. If the contract is given to some area where there is severe unemployment there is a real case for that, but that is not the purpose for which the Bill is put to us. It is done in the most objectionable way possible.
It would have been far better if we had been frankly told that that was the purpose of the Bill and if we had a straightforward expenditure of public money for that purpose. Then the State could have acquired the asset which was being created in that way. We object—and we object far more after the full revelation of the Cunard Eagle Company's intentions and the grant of the licence for those intentions—to the financial provisions of this Clause as it stands.
§ Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)
I had a little difficulty in following the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I gather that he proposes to support the Bill, but I also gather that he opposes Clause 1, which is the essence of the Bill. Therefore, I am in a little difficulty and I think he must be in precisely the same difficulty.
§ Mr. Strachey
I support what I consider to be the one useful purpose of the 746 Bill, but I object most strongly to the proposed way of carrying out that purpose.
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
That merely confirms what I said, that the right hon. Member, despite his recent speech, intends, I understand, to support the Bill. That is very satisfactory and I am glad that is so.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman say that B.O.A.C. will be £5 million out of pocket if this deal goes through, not just for one year but continually? It seems to me an extraordinary statement, and I know of no justification for it. On the contrary, the Air Licensing Board indicated clearly that there is ample room for expansion for B.O.A.C. and any other lines, including this line. This is not a closed shop in trans-Atlantic passage by sea or air. There is room for everybody. I feel that we can discount nearly all that the right hon. Gentleman said about competition between Cunard Eagle and B.O.A.C.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member said that anyone can come into this trans-Atlantic run, by air or by sea. What happens if they cannot get the £18 million plus a subsidy?
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman is mixing things up, which, no doubt, is what he wants to do. It is clear to me, and I think to the outside world, that the Cunard Company has an opportunity here to develop the air traffic side of its business. There is a possibility for all the expansion which anyone can reasonably desire. This will, therefore, not be a continuing charge upon the B.O.A.C. and Government funds.
§ Mr. Diamond
Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with the statement of the chairman of the Air Licensing Board in giving its findings—a statement in which he said that the grant of this licence to Eagle Airways would take some of the traffic away from B.O.A.C.?
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
Had the hon. Member listened to me he would have heard me challenge the statement of his right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West that this mythical £5 million loss would continue for ever. That is not true. It is conceivable that B.O.A.C. may lose £5 million for the first year, or perhaps even for the second 747 year, but my belief is that there is ample room for great improvement and development here both for B.O.A.C. and for Cunard Eagle.
I do not want to detain the House much longer, but I want to comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who is apparently opposed to the Bill. I have no personal financial interest in Cunard. I have an interest in the fact that Cunard produced the "Queen Mary" in Scottish yards. I was in the House then, and I well remember that the same arguments were used at that time as have been used by my hon. Friend today. The main argument was, "You must not do this, because in ten or twenty years' time the ship will be out of date". That was said then and it is said now.
I do not believe it. I have taken pains to examine the matter and to consult those who know, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) can confirm, and all the evidence which I have—it is available to other people—is that there is room for another great ship of this kind crossing the Atlantic for another ten years, tweny years, or more. There is ample opportunity for that type of ship to be continued in years to come.
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
I am talking about one, but if, in two years' time, I am invited to support Cunard in providing another ship, I shall support that, too, because I believe that this service has a special place in trans-Atlantic transport. It is foolish talking as if it were a ship intended only for the extremely wealthy. The truth is that great numbers of people in responsible positions, not all wealthy, cross by the "Queens" now, have been doing so for years and will continue to do so in all kinds of weather.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford suggested that this service would not be satisfactory in all weather. That is not true. Almost alone, the "Queens" produce for those who cross the Atlantic a service and an attraction which is exceptional. I have no doubt that we do wisely in introducing the Bill, and, therefore, facilitating the building of 748 another new ship of this kind. Of course, in the end it may turn out to be not all that we hoped; it is possible that we may be disappointed. But all that I have discovered from my researches in the Clyde suggest that we shall not be disappointed—and I frankly admit that I hope that this ship will be built on the Clyde. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. The history is there, the technique is there, everything is there—including, I believe, the need for employment.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
The hon. Member said that he is prepared to support the building of one or two ships. His party, at election time, is apposed to nationalisation. Does he not think that it is time to put the begging bowls away if it is intended to spend public money in this way?
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
This is not a begging bowl. Parliament made a loan for the first "Queen Mary", and the whole of it, every penny, has been repaid. That was done to the great advantage of the Cunard Company, of the shipbuilders on the Clyde and of the whole trans-Atlantic community. The same thing will happen again. I am glad to support the Bill, and I hope that for the sake of Scotland, in particular, it will be passed.
§ Mr. Albu
I was interested in the recollections of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) of what happened twenty-five years ago. How many people at that time were aware that by 1961 more people would be crossing the Atlantic by air than by sea? I do not believe that what people thought about the "Queen Mary" then is very relevant to the present situation.
Unfortunately, I was away during the early stages of the Bill, for I should have opposed it very strongly. I am sorry that my right hon. and hon. Friends did not vote against it. Since then the arguments against the Bill have grown even stronger, and the opposition to the Bill on all sides of the House has become very clear. In fact, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) gave the Minister, in a mildly critical but cogent speech, an opportunity of backing out of what I consider to be a disastrous venture.
749 I am well aware of the argument well put my my right hon. Friend and by all hon. Members who have shipbuilding constituencies—the argument about employment; but I believe that employment in shipbuilding could be helped a great deal more by other means than by building one vast white elephant which everybody knows will be out of date by the time it is built. I am not against spending public money and supporting by subsidy even private firms, if necessary even one private firm, but there must be reasons for doing it which are sound, and it must advance the industry into which the money is being poured.
This money will partly be used to help Cunard to featherbed the Cunard Steamship Company, at the same time as Cunard Eagle is to be featherbedded into the air in order to make very large profits based on the founding of a very competitive airline business by B.O.A.C. We are reaching the situation in which over several years one builds up a very competitive public business—there are 15 competing airlines—and once the business is profitable one allows private firms to enter the business and to cut some of it away. In the same way, the refusal of the Minister to accept the Amendment to allow the State to participate in the profits earned by this ship means that capital and a subsidy are being provided to get the ship off the slipway until it starts making profits, and then the Government retire and the company goes on making profits. In both cases it is a feather bedding of the Cunard Company and its shareholders.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Is not the weakness of that argument the fact that the number of people crossing the Atlantic is greatly increasing, especially because of the upsurge of the tourist trade? It is part of the pattern of these tourists to travel one way by sea. They come here by air and go back by sea, taking with them the purchases they have made in this country.
§ Mr. Albu
That has nothing to do with my point about the featherbedding of the two companies. Before the companies can make a profit, in the one case the business has to be established by a public corporation and in the other case it has to be established by public money. 750 After the business has been established, the companies will be allowed to retain the profit.
Everybody knows that this ship is being built because of an election promise. The only way the Government can explain why they made the promise is by saying, not that the ship will be profitable and earn huge sums of dollars but that it will maintain our prestige. My view corresponds with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), who said that if we wanted prestige it would be far better to get into the air first with a supersonic jet aircraft, to which we might contribute this money, than to build an out-of-date ship.
Unfortunately, the Bill is based, like so many of this Government's actions, on a report by a secret Committee—a "Star Chamber" Committee. We know the name of the chairman. We know nothing about the Committee's findings, except what the Government choose to tell us. This is a well known procedure under the present Minister of Transport. We have had exactly the same thing in connection with the railways. The full views of the Chandos Committee are unknown. It is believed that the Committee said that this type of ship would be suitable only for the tourist trade in the summer. This is the answer to the interjection made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). By "suitable" I mean profitable in the summer for the tourist trade.
I believe that the Committee also said that it was not prepared to commit itself about the profitability of the ship ten years beyond the date of its report, which is now a year ago. It will take three or four years to build the ship, so there will be only five years left. I believe that the truth of the matter is that the Chandos Committee recognised that this was an extremely doubtful proposition, which is the view of most people inside and outside the House of Commons.
I must say this to those of my hon. Friends who have shipbuilding interests. The building of this ship will be a help to one yard only. There will be much bitter in-fighting before it is finally decided which yard is to build the ship. The other yards will be very disappointed indeed. What the shipbuilding industry 751 needs is a great deal more effort to increase employment in the many regions in this country in which there are shipbuilding yards.
§ Mr. Rankin
Does my hon. Friend realise that the building of the "Queen Mary" helped practically every shipyard in the country and a great many industries throughout the whole of the country? The same is expected to be true of this ship.
§ Mr. Albu
That was at a time of very great unemployment. Today there is not great unemployment in the engineering industry. There may be unemployment in the shipbuilding industry, but there is not unemployment in the engineering industry as a whole. The situation is completely different. Today we need something which will help the shipbuilding industry to modernise itself and design more modern ships. One continually hears criticisms not only of the shipbuilding industry but of ships which it builds. I was talking only this morning to a number of ships' officers. They were all extremely critical of the design of British cargo ships.
If this very large sum of money is to be spent, it can be of value to the shipbuilding and shipping industries only if the ship to be built is of very advanced design. I have in mind a ship which the owners would not be willing or able to support because it would be so advanced that it might be a greater risk than the normal commercial risk. In those circumstances there would be a case for the Government supporting it, because it might put the shipbuilding industry years ahead of its competitors. If this were the case, it would justify the expenditure of public money.
I want to ask the Minister some questions. This is the last occasion on which we will be able to deal with the question of what sort of ship it will be, if a ship is ever built, which is extremely unlikely. However, tenders have been asked for. I want to ask the Minister what sort of ship it will be. Everybody knows that the Cunard Company is a very conservative company. Its engineers are extremely conservative. I believe that it has asked for a ship of 150,000 shaft horsepower, as compared with the 160,000 shaft horsepower of the "Queen Mary", although the "Queen Mary" is 6,000 tons larger. Does this 752 mean that the Cunard Company believes that there has been no improvement or progress in the design of either the hulls or machinery of ships in the last twenty-five years? If so, it is a serious thing.
On Second Reading the Minister referred to the fact that there had been proposals for a smaller ship propelled by twin screws instead of by four. He said that these proposals had been turned down by the Chandos Committee, which had examined every possibility with the aid of the Yarrow Admiralty Research Department. Does the Yarrow Admiralty Research Department also believe that it is not possible to build a smaller ship with twin screws capable of carrying exactly the same number of passengers? Or is it the fact that the Chandos Committee, a non-technical Committee, heard the views of the Yarrow Admiralty Research Department and others, then heard the very conservative views of the Cunard engineers and, finally, accepted the views of the Cunard Company?
There is a very strong belief that a twin screws ship would be capable of a speed of 29½ knots and of carrying the same number of passengers. Nowadays it is perfectly possible to design shafts to take 75,000 horse-power each on overload, which is what would be required. The arguments used by the Chairman of the Cunard company do not hold water when examined by modern marine engineers. If this were done, the price of the ship would be reduced by £10 million and I understand that it would be able to run with very much lower fuel costs.
The criticisms being made in the shipbuilding industry of what is thought to be the specifications for the tenders which have been asked for must be answered by the Government if people are not to believe that the ship will not be more of a white elephant than we originally thought it would. It will be no credit to the British shipping and shipbuilding industry if we build a ship whose hull design, engines and handling equipment are already ten years out of date by the time it is built. If the Government are to spend this money, they must show that they will insist on the ship being of extremely advanced design, which will help the rest of the shipbuilding industry to modernise itself, which is badly needed at the moment.
753 In particular, I want to ask some questions about the engines. Hon. Members may have noted that the engines for the most successful ship which has been built recently—the "Canberra"—were not built by the marine engineering industry. They were built by an electrical firm. That was because the marine engineering industry in this country is known to be very backward. I hope that in this case the P.A.M.E.T.R.A.D.A. organisation will not be responsible for the design of the engines, because this organisation has been very much criticised. It may not even be in existence in a few years' time. If that is so, it will not even be there to supervise the engines while they are being built. I therefore hope that tenders for the engines will be sought from a wide variety of sources so that the ship will have engines of the most advanced design.
The Government are asking for Parliamentary approval to spend a great deal of money in what most people believe is the wrong way. I hope that they do not spend it at all. I think that it is quite likely that the ship will never be built. The least the Government can do if they do spend the money is to ensure that, when the ship is built, the shipping and shipbuilding industries derive some advantage from it apart from some temporary employment. If this is done in the right way, it might help to modernise our shipbuilding industry, which has been the subject of so much criticism lately.
§ Mr. Hirst
We have listened to a powerful argument from the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), with which I almost entirely agree. I join with the hon. Member in wishing that the House had been mare definite about its views during the Second Reading debate. But we have passed that stage, and it would be out of order for me to go back. However, I feel that the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton should be carefully considered, even at this late stage. I am not satisfied about how this project will work out. There are possibilities which may affect what we have been discussing.
One of those possibilities is that the estimates may prove higher than was envisaged; in which case, the Cunard 754 Company, as it has made only too clear, will not suggest proceeding with the venture, unless the Government "carry the baby". I note from the White Paper, which has governed so much of our discussions, that there is always the possibility of asking for more money for the future. Will that be the procedure? We ought to know something about that before we part with this Clause.
The other alternative is equally serious. Bearing in mind the situation, and the knowledge possessed by the contractors, there is a distinct possibility that some of them will cut their estimates, more perhaps than they ought, and will rely on the escalator clauses, which will no doubt be present, to pull them through if the project becomes more expensive. They know perfectly well that the same situation will arise as has faced the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee on other occasions. It will be argued that a substantial sum of money has been laid out, and it cannot be wasted, so more money must be spent. Eventually, much more money than was envisaged will be expended. That is something which, had we been honest and straightforward—had we "come clean" to use the words of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)—we should have said would happen in any case.
I am confident that whatever happens, this House is carrying a responsibility which should rest on the shoulders of the Minister. Whatever Government policy may be, in my judgment it will be wrong. The only question is: to what degree will it be wrong? I oppose this Clause absolutely. This is a wonderful bit of featherbedding.
I cannot see how the Cunard Company can lose out on the project. With Government assistance the company will build a ship of a type which it would not touch without such assistance. The company will immediately cash in and build another ship. We shall see a supersonic liner built with the money which the company has been able to keep for itself by acting according to sound, private enterprise principles, which I support—having got the Government to act like a set of mugs and get the company out of its difficulties.
§ Mr. J. Howard
My hon. Friend has been saying that the Cunard Company cannot go wrong. Yet he is condemning the whole transaction because he says that it has no prospect of success. The Government must first recover their £18 million before the Cunard Company can recover a penny of the £12 million which it is putting into the project. If this is such a rotten proposition, how will it prove such a magnificent thing for the Cunard line?
§ Mr. Hirst
We heard this sort of speech during the Second Reading debate, the same old dratted, confounded nonsense. It would be more sensible if the money were spread over the whole of the activities of the Cunard Company, including a supersonic liner. Then I should not grudge the building of this vessel in a shipyard in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard)—if there is any possibility of that happening. At the moment, I grudge it to anybody. I think that it is a wrong thing to do and fundamentally bad economically.
In my judgment—I do not pretend to be voicing anything but my judgment, but the majority of speeches have also made this clear—there are small chances of a profit. The Government will "hold the baby" while the Cunard Company will pay fat dividends resulting from its more sound and sensible operations and the assets which it will continue to hold. If the scheme proves a failure, the Government will foreclose on a ship which nobody else wants. I have never experienced such a rotten deal before.
On 24th March, The Times expressed a view which it has often expressed, thatto use loans and grants of public money to help Cunard build another 'Queen' would be wrong".The newspaper also stated:British shipping lives in a hard commercial world. Its future depends not on status symbols, but on efficient ships and shipyards, efficient ports and fair conditions in which to profit from efficient management.Haw much better would it be were the money going to the various ports in this country.
The Financial Times of 4th November last year said:The fact is that the Government is committing itself once again and at a time when 756 every effort is being made to cut unnecessary State expenditure"—I had not noticed it—to a project which few of even the more committed experts really expect to pay a market rate.I am astonished that the Government see nothing wrong in giving a subsidy to a company which is a powerful member of at least one equally powerful price-fixing association if not a couple. How can the Government defend themselves against other claims which we know will be made? What steps will the Government take to encourage efficiency?
The Government are proposing to spend £18 million on a ship which will be out of date before it is completed; and that is a monstrous waste of money. It is an irresponsible act of Government policy which receives my utter condemnation, and I think that the Government will have a lot to answer for to the taxpayers.
§ Mr. Shinwell
After the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) this ship has been sunk without trace. That is exactly what it deserves. From the very outset of this debate and in the Second Reading debate I have taken the line—I took my stand on grounds of logic and reason—that this Bill should never be passed at all. But we are now about to vote on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". It is as well that the Committee should know that if we vote against that Question we shall extract the "engine-room" from this legislation and the proposed ship will never sail salt water. The whole "guts" of the legislation is contained in this Clause—let the Committee make no mistake about that.
I invite hon. Members opposite who have spoken in the way in which the hon. Member for Shipley has spoken—I am not now discussing prejudice, I will deal with that in a moment—to come into the Division Lobby with us and show their resentment of the legislation advanced by the Government, which I regard as complete folly.
What about this prejudice? I say it without offence, but nevertheless I say that I disagree completely with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), as I do 757 with the views expressed by hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. They are concerned solely and exclusively with a desire to have this projected ship built, it may be at Belfast, or on the Clyde, or on the Tyne, or on Merseyside, or in some other shipbuilding centre. I speak about this matter without prejudice.
At the same time, I disagree profoundly and fundamentally with those who say that if the Government propose to spend a matter of £18 million, or whatever the sum may be, it ought to be spent on a supersonic liner to enhance our prestige, or upon a nuclear-powered ship. I repeat what I said during the Second Reading debate. If we have money to burn, it would be far better to assist some of the shipyards and the shipping industry, and the mercantile marine, by providing sufficient credit to shipbuilding firms in order that vessels of 20,000 and 30,000 tons could be constructed; modern vessels capable of producing speeds of 28 or 29 knots.
I furnish as an example the recently constructed "Canberra", of the P. & O. Line. This is, perhaps, the most modern ship sailing the ocean at the present time. There is nothing to compare with it. Just what are the facts about that vessel? She is of 40,000 tons and of modern design. There has been a great deal of discussion about whether the projected new "Queen" will be capable of making a profit and sailing throughout the whole of the seasons, carrying a vast number of passengers and, at the same time, competing with similar ships of other mercantile marine countries and also with air travel.
What are the facts? I asked the Minister a Question a week or so ago and I did not get an answer. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman did not have the information. I asked him to provide me with statistical information which would enable hon. Members to judge whether a ship of the proposed size could, through the year, make a profit on the number of passengers it would carry. Actually, of course, from May until November passenger vessels like the "Queens" are full to capacity. There is no doubt about that. I am not referring necessarily to tourist passengers, for one does not make a profit from tourist passengers alone but from those who 758 take the very best cabins and who travel de luxe, perhaps on business, and others who are wealthy enough to travel in that fashion.
We know that, sometimes, they cross by air and come back in one of the "Queens". Some of them can afford the money and the time to do that. But what happens between November and May? What is the actual number of passengers—tourists and others—travelling in one of the "Queens" in the winter months? Of course, they do not want to travel at that time of the year. The Atlantic is often rough in the summer let alone the winter. Naturally they prefer to go by air during the winter months.
I ventured, to ask one of the directors of the P. & O. Line what would be the position if we built a vessel similar to the "Canberra", of about 40,000 tons. Would such a vessel be able to handle the North Atlantic trade because, generally, it is believed that vessels of that kind on the Pacific trade—to Australia, New Zealand and thence to San Francisco, and so on—are incapable of sailing regularly on the North Atlantic route? He replied that there was no difficulty at all; between May and November it was easy. But, he said, between November and May there were difficulties because of the rough weather, when vessels must curtail their speed. That is exactly what even the "Queens" must do during the winter months. They must curtail speed because, if they do not, difficulties will confront them.
I said earlier—and I meant it without offence—that many people are prejudiced in this matter. That is understandable. If I represented a shipbuilding area I should want more work for the people employed or for those who are likely to become unemployed. But the Government cannot base their national legislation on cases of that sort. That is impossible.
It was pointed out during the Second Reading that there will be bitter competition if the Clyde gets the contract for building the proposed new vessel. Naturally, Belfast will resent it because of the rate of unemployment there. Further, hon. Members can boast as much as they like about John Brown—and I know more about John Brown 759 than even my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire, East, because I came from the Clyde originally. I can assure hon. Members that there is nothing to beat Harland & Wolff in Belfast as a shipbuilding concern. It is one of the finest in the world. What is more, the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company compares very favourably with John Brown. Then there is Swan Hunter & Wigham, Richardson on Tyneside, and Vickers on Merseyside; and many others.
I can assure hon. Members that I know something about this subject. I have been dealing with it for many years and, therefore, I speak from experience. Thus, I say that it would have been more sensible, more logical and more to the advantage of the nation if the Government, through the Council of Shipping and other representative organisations, would ask the industry: "Do you want assistance? If so, say in which form you would prefer it, either by subsidy or in another way"—the industry does not want subsidies—"or do you prefer credits?"
It is amazing to compare the credit facilities for shipbuilding in Britain with those in other countries. On the Continent shipbuilders can provide credit to ship owners—and some of the vessels being built under these arrangements are very big ones—to an extent that far transcends anything known in this country. The figures in this connection were provided during the Second Reading debate and I will not repeat them now.
I wish now to deal with some of the points mentioned by the Minister, who is lively and a bit tricky; as tricky as a pack of monkeys, I think, and he is always wriggling. Earlier today I asked the right hon. Gentleman to come clean, but it seems that he simply cannot do that. I do not know whether it is against his nature, but why will he not tell us all the facts about this matter?
Let me make it clear that the Cunard Company is not to blame. That company did not suggest that the ship should be built. It was the Prime Minister who started this off. He is the villain of the piece, the inspiration, the instigator—because he wanted to collect more votes. I do not blame him for that, because 760 that is his job. The Prime Minister was a bit doubtful about what was going to happen in Scotland and he suggested that if they put the Tories in they would be paid back and would get one of the "Queens". I say "one of them", because two were promised.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Yes, and Sir John Brocklebank—and he is a fine man who would never dream of uttering an untruth—happened to say, perhaps inadvertently, "We did not rush into this business. We did not really want the money", and he suggested that it was forced on him. Thus, we should have a clear reply from the Minister to the simple question of whether or not the Government knew about the Cunard Eagle affair when they entered into these arrangements with the Cunard Company? That is a new one. It has not been mentioned before in the debate.
Further, did the Chandos Committee know about it? We have been given little information about that Committee. Hon. Members have been kept in the dark about it and, I think, for good reason, because if all the facts had been exposed I do not think that the Minister would have come out of this quite so well. I urge the Minister to answer this question: when the Chandos Committee was conducting its inquiries, which led to this legislation and to the suggested agreement with the Cunard Line—because, as yet, according to the White Paper, no definite agreement has been formulated about the arrangements and an agreement to ask for tenders—did the Government know that it was the intention of the Cunard Line to create a subsidiary concern, Cunard Eagle? I think that we ought to have an answer. Did they know that the company was going to spend £6 million on that project? They might have suggested, "If you are going into the aircraft business and you have got money to burn, go ahead and do it, but do not come to us and ask us for assistance". Nothing has been said in the debate about the resources at the disposal of the Cunard Line. The figures were given in the Second Reading debate. The company has £15 million in investments and £16 million in reserves for replacement purposes. It has a vast sum of 761 cash at its disposal. All these figures were given in the Second Reading debate.
The company did not need the money. It is said that the money was foisted upon the company. As for the question of prestige, prestige does not arise from the building and sailing of another "Queen". Prestige could be derived, so far as the mercantile marine and our Merchant; Navy traditions are concerned, if we had, say, another couple of "Canberras" or vessels of that type—not necessarily of 40,000 tons, but 30,000 tons, capable of sailing across the Atlantic. What is more important, it is useful to have a liner which can cross the Atlantic in the summer months full to capacity, and which in the winter is capable of undertaking cruising. There is a lot of money to be made out of cruising. Indeed, because the Plate trade is not as good as it used to be, some of the vessels in the Royal Mail line have been adapted for cruising purposes more profit is made from cruising than from the ordinary routes.
I do not want to say any more about this, because I do not suppose we can convince the Minister that we are right and that he ought to change his mind.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not know. He does not appear to me to be as resilient as all that. It is a great pity. As I say, I am not speaking from any prejudice. I am concerned solely and exclusively with the future of shipbuilding and shipping. It is something that we ought to be proud of. Of course, I am troubled about the competition, flags of convenience, flags of discrimination and all the problems and difficulties confronting the shipping industry. So are we all. It is obvious that we shall get no satisfaction from the United States Government. In spite of the diplomatic representations, we shall get no satisfaction out of this alleged partner of ours which lets us down when it comes to shipping and shipbuilding.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is no use talking about Canada. Canada is in a quite different situation. She has had to adopt this restrictive practice on the Lakes 762 because of her economic position. But that cannot be said about the United States of America. She is in a strong economic position and she ought to be able to help. She is helping us as much as she did immediately after the war when she stopped Lend-Lease. That was a tragedy. However, that is by the way.
Therefore, never mind about the difficulties which have been explained so ably and with such technical detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester—and how right he has been about it—and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). What matters is this: is it going to be worth while and in the interests of this country to go ahead with this project? I do not think it is. I think that it will be found in the course of a few years that the ship will not pay.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to come clean and say whether he thinks that it will make a profit or not. I think it will not make a profit. It will saddle the Cunard line and the taxpayers with a considerable debt. We have missed the bus—if I may use such a metaphor in this debate—when we might have been spending a little money on providing credit to help the shipbuilding and shipping industry of this country.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
I shall not detain the Committee for long, because many of the points that I had wished to raise have already been mentioned and, indeed, over-reiterated.
The Clause that we are discussing is the meat of this important Bill, which has caused so much controversy and difficulty. It seems very strange that we talk about an £18 million subsidy as being an enormous amount of money and yet write off the £12 million which the Cunard Company is prepared to invest in this vessel. I cannot see how one can say that £18 million is an enormous sum and that £12 million is of no importance.
Obviously, the Cunard Company is a company of repute. It cannot afford to undertake something which it thinks will be a failure. It will not gamble £12 million against a loan of £18 million unless it thinks that it will be a good thing in the long run. It is sad to listen to hon. Members saying that the "Queen" will be a white elephant and 763 that it will be out of date. It is to be a new and up-to-date ship, built to go on the Atlantic run, and I think that it will be a well-worth-while venture. We should be much more interested in seeing that it is a success.
I wish to mention one or two points of special interest to Ireland, coming as I do from Northern Ireland and having among my constituents many who are occupied in the shipbuilding industry. I was very disturbed, earlier this afternoon, to hear the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) say that he did not believe that this ship would ever be allocated to Harland and Wolff because he believed that it had been arranged that it would go to the Clyde. If I believed that that was so, I could never support the Bill. I know perfectly well that we shall get a straightforward deal, and we shall have to accept it. In fair competition—and I say this despite the fact that many of my constituents are involved—the tender must go to the company which offers the best contract, and I believe that Harland and Wolff can do so.
If it does not do so, and we lose the "Queen" to some other shipbuilding firm through that firm putting in a better tender, we shall benefit in the end because other work will come in. This "Queen" will not be the only vessel to be built. One would think that we were in such a parlous condition that not another screw would be turning in another ship. But that is wrong. I have great faith and hope that we in Northern Ireland, with our workmanship and our traditions, will be able to present the best tender and get the contract.
I join issue with the hon. Member for Bermondsey. He said that he was almost certain that this contract would not go to Northern Ireland. He alleged that the Prime Minister said in a speech that it would go to the Clyde. I ask him to produce that speech and to give the date and the place where it was delivered, so that we may have the facts. It is a very strange allegation. The hon. Gentleman professes to be a great friend of Northern Ireland, who wants to help the workers there. He failed to answer the challenge that I offered this afternoon. He failed to give me an answer.
§ Mrs McLaughlin
What are the Opposition doing here? They are not doing what the Northern Ireland Labour Party called upon them to do, that is to say, to put on pressure on the Government to ensure that this contract is directed to Northern Ireland. I have not seen any great enthusiasm on the benches opposite. The Northern Ireland Labour Party had put its hope in something which will never happen and in a Labour Opposition here who will never work for it unless it suits them on occasions.
§ Mr. Mellish
What I said this afternoon was, I thought, no more than what was known by the whole Committee, namely, that the Prime Minister made a speech on the Clyde, during the election campaign, to an audience of shipyard workers. He told them that the "Queens" would be replaced and, as far as one can judge—this will be confirmed by other hon. Members who may catch your eye, Sir Gordon—it was a speech for consumption by those employed in the shipyards on the Clyde, the interpretation of the speech being, of course, that they would have the contract.
Further, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) wrote to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister replied to him. In addition, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) recently wrote an article in which all this was restated.
I heard what the hon. Lady said about Northern Ireland. I was defending Northern Ireland when she was not here, but ought to have been, and urging very strongly that the contract should go to Northern Ireland. It is a pity that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends were not here on that occasion to support some of the Amendments which we put forward.
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
The hon. Gentleman cannot scrape the bottom of the political garbage can without some of the "Stour", as we say in Northern Ireland, sticking to him. Those are just about the most specious answers I have heard for a long time. The plain fact is that the hon. Gentleman was not able to substantiate the statement he 765 made, that the contract would go to the Clyde. The hon. Gentleman is not helping Northern Ireland at all by the things he says.
§ The Chairman
I hope that the hon. Lady will not pursue that. The Question before the Committee is "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
I shall endeavour to keep in order, Sir Gordon.
What supervision will there be to ensure that the contract is fairly awarded? How will that be done? Also, what will be the arrangement for possible subcontracts? How will they be worked out? Perhaps this is not the time to expect a direct answer to those questions, but we in Northern Ireland are worried about the answers. The Committee is now considering Clause 1.
It is important that we should have the Clause passed straight away so that the Cunard Company will be in a position to go ahead when agreement is reached and the contract is arranged. If there is to be an increase in the cost of the liner and if there are to be all sorts of other difficulties, we must meet them when the time comes. It lies in the hands of the Cunard Company finally to decide what it will do. We are here clearing the lines so that it may do it.
Of course, what is here suggested is good for employment. Of course, it is good for prestige. Of course, it is important that the project should in the long run make a profit. "Profit" is not a dirty word when the profit is used properly. I hope sincerely that we shall pass the Bill through all its stages as swiftly as possible and that this Clause, which is the major part of it, will receive unopposed acceptance.
§ Mr. Diamond
The hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) said several things which will interest many people, but what interested us above all else was her statement that, if she were satisfied that the contract would not go to Northern Ireland, she would vote against the Bill.
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
I said that were I satisfied that the contract would not be a fair contract fairly allocated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is correct. Perhaps I put it in another way, 766 but my intention was to say that I was satisfied that the Government were giving us a fair deal.
§ Mr. Diamond
What the hon. Lady said was tied up with her challenge to my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). What she said, in relation to that challenge, was that if my hon. Friend was right in saying that the shipbuilding contract would not go to Harland and Wolff she would not vote for the Bill.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Diamond
I am not mistaken. I am trying to be absolutely accurate, and what I say will be borne out my HANSARD tomorow morning.
I wish to be as sympathetic as I can to the hon. Lady. There have been two kinds of speeches made during the debate on this Question. Those with constituency interests are for the Bill. Those without constituency interests are against the Bill. I propose to speak on principle because I have no constituency interest. I quite understand that the hon. Lady is following the precedent of an Irish Member of the last century who rose in the house on one occasion to say, "There are times, Mr. Speaker, when we have to rise about principle."
We all understand constituency pressures and we all understand the needs of different constituencies. We understand, therefore, how wise the Prime Minister was at election time to make an electioneering promise—I do not call it an election pledge—about this matter. We can see how he put the cat among the pigeons. By this one promise he gained sympathy from every shipyard throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland and he ensured that there would be speeches in support of the Bill in accordance with that sympathy. It was a very intelligent promise to make at election time. But should we be bound by that? We know very well that the Cunard Company had not put pressure upon the Government before the election. Cunard had 767 not said, "We are anxious, in the interests of British shipping, that there should be a new ship and we need help for it". That had not happened at that stage.
The Minister of Transport knows very well that the initiative for this project came the other way. The Prime Minister having made his promise, the Chandos Committee was appointed to tell him how he could give effect to the promise. The Chandos Committee was told, "Do not say whether the Prime Minister should have made the promise. Tell us, now that he has made it, how effect can be given to it". As a result, the Chandos Committee delivered its Report. Obviously, having regard to the circumstances, the Report must have contained several things which the Government found it difficult to disclose. Therefore, we are not given all the facts.
§ Mr. Diamond
That is a very good point. Will the Minister correct me also in my allegation that it was not initiated by the Cunard Company bringing pressure on the Government but that the Government initiated the proposal themselves? Will he correct me on that?
§ Mr. Marples
Cunard initiated it, the company came to the Government, as I said on Second Reading—it was quite clear—and said to the Government that it could not compete in the subsidised express service across the Atlantic without help.
I interrupted the hon. Gentleman only because he made the other allegation against my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in saying that my right hon. Friend made a pledge and thereafter appointed the Chandos Committee. That is an error.
§ Mr. Diamond
That is an error which I made and which I withdraw without reservation. I did not realise that I had it the wrong way round. However, we have it established now that the initiative did not come from Cunard. That is made perfectly clear by the answer we had from the Minister.
I do not want to antagonise the Minister. I do not want to antagonise 768 any hon. Member opposite and least of all do I want to antagonise those of my hon. Friends who have constituency interests, but I suggest that this whole matter should be reconsidered.
§ Mr. Willey
I think that we should have this clear. The Minister referred to what he said on Second Reading. What he said then was:Secondly, in September, 1959, the Government appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of Viscount Chandos …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 915.]That was September, 1959.
§ Mr. Marples
The discussions took place earlier and the Committee was appointed well before the election. In substance, it was appointed well before the election, and that, of course, was exactly what the hon. Gentleman did not say. He put it the other way round.
§ Mr. Willey
The Minister referred to what he said on Second Reading. I have called attention to what he said. Is he now saying that he misled the House on Second Reading?
§ Mr. Marples
It was in the spring of 1959 that discussions with Lord Chandos took place, which was long before the election. When the actual announcement was made I do not know, but it was certainly well before the election. That was the point of principle which the hon. Gentleman put which I have corrected.
§ Mr. Diamond
I have already apologised. I was relying on my recollection. My recollection was based on what the Minister himself told us on Second Reading. I do not regard it as a very satisfactory situation. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for making it clear.
I am anxious not to antagonise anybody. We are all in a serious position and this matter ought to be looked at as objectively as possible. We must deal with it as fairly as we can, arriving at a certain conclusion and avoiding all possible difficulties. We all recall the situation at the time of the Second Reading debate. We can see which way the argument has gone since Second Reading. We can see which way events have moved since then and which conclusion 769 we ought to draw. We can see also what the likely event will be in a year or two. Everything drives us to one conclusion.
In passing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) referred to Canada. Let us, in considering the wisdom of building a ship of this kind, refer once more to the decision of the Home Lines to build a ship of 30,000 tons to do the very same job. This is a company putting its own money into a ship. In giving the reasons for its decision, it said:We examined all sizes up to 70,000 tons. We rejected the larger ship because it would be a white elephant for winter cruising, and we think anyone who builds for the North Atlantic in winter is plain crazy.These are very strong words. They are the words used by the people who are putting up their own money to build ships to travel across the Atlantic. I know that the argument against that will be that we are not concerned with the North Atlantic passenger service but with the North Atlantic express passenger service. The essence of that argument is that we should have a weekly service each way. The corollary to that is to have two "Queens" of this kind. I want to make it absolutely clear that it is utterly pointless to have one new "Queen".
If we build this new "Queen" we should be contemplating building a second new "Queen" in five years' time. This is borne out by what the Prime Minister said in his election pledge and in the Conservative election manifesto. He specifically referred to two "Queens", on the sensible ground that one "Queen" by itself does not serve the purpose. It does not serve the purpose of a fast two-way service; it serves a one-sided purpose of no advantage at all, and there is no point in going to this vast expense of building a ship which will not do what is required. We might otherwise go to the much smaller expense of £12 million to build a 30,000 or 40,000 tonner that will go across the Atlantic perfectly satisfactorily but which cannot keep up a two-way weekly service throughout the winter.
I am asking the Minister to use his responsibility and to discuss with his colleague what he thinks he is likely to do in five years' time when the next "Queen" comes up for consideration. Can he possibly think, the way matters 770 are developing, that any sensible Minister or sensible House of Commons will approve in five years' time the building of another "Queen" on the same kind of subsidy, or, it may be, a 100 per cent. subsidy then? There will be no chance of it. It will not be prestige. It will be an outworn Victorian idea by that time and no one will consider it. If we build one ship, we shall be out on a limb and have this one ship in five years' time failing to satisfy the only criterion, which the Minister himself has used as a justification for building this ship, namely, a two-way, fast passenger service. I appeal to the Minister to give this matter much more thought.
In principle, everyone who has spoken without constituency interest has spoken against the Bill. Surely the Minister ought to have some concern for his own back benchers and ex-Ministerial colleagues who feel as strongly as they do and ought to bring this matter to a challenge within his own party or to a challenge in the House of Commons. Surely he must realise the weight of the arguments of those hon. Members who have made those speeches. There was the speech of the hon. Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan) who discharged his duty very fully on Second Reading. He has not been here since, but I do not think that he needs to be since having made that speech.
The principles of the thing are all wrong and the terms are all wrong. We do not want to get bogged down on the terms because we have now got beyond details. I would, however, say in passing that the Minister talked about getting the best security and the highest level of interest. He is not getting the best security; he is getting no security. He is getting the sort of security that a mock autioneer gets. It is like lending money to someone who says, "Not only will I repay this money but I will guarantee to do so" but who gives no additional security or guarantee. If there were a guarantee by Cunard for this money being lent to Cunard and if, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) thought, these arrangements were following a normal business-like arrangement of a guarantee being provided by the parent company itself, there might be something to be said for security. There is no security here at all. A sum of f18 million is being lent, and the total security 771 is one ship, which is to be built provided that the cost is not more than a total of £30 million.
As to the level of interest, we are lending money at 4½ per cent. with a subsidy—I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making an open subsidy of it—and at 6¼ per cent. without a subsidy. I am saying that 6¼ per cent. is not without subsidy. Today 6¼ per cent. is subsidised. Anything below 7¼ per cent. for this loan at this stage represents a very heavy subsidy. The Bank Rate is probably going up very shortly—perhaps the Minister himself knows exactly when. The Government themselves are borrowing at much more than 6¼ per cent. The return on War Loan today is nearly 6¾ per cent.—£6 12s. 8d. per cent.—as we are sitting here Government borrowing on savings has been at something like 7 per cent. The actuaries investment index on first-class industrial debentures—not this sort of unsecured debenture—is 7 per cent.
In short, I am saying that the Government are being driven not only to encourage a worthless enterprise but, because of the unsatisfactory nature of the enterprise, to lend money that is utterly inadequately secured, whatever the Government say, on a subsidised rate of interest. Surely the Minister realises that there is no enthusiasm anywhere for this proposal. There is no enthusiasm for it in this Committee—none at all. It is only one of the misfortunes of our Parliamentary procedure that the Bill was not voted against on Second Reading. Had it been voted against then on a free vote, there would have been at least 70 hon. Members opposite who would have voted against it.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
What does my hon. Friend mean by saying that it was only an accident of Parliamentary procedure that we did not vote on Second Reading? What kind of accident was that? Could not we have done it.
§ Mr. Diamond
My hon. Friend can draw his own conclusions. He is wise enough and able enough to do so. He is an old hand at this sort of thing. I repeat what I said, that it was only an accident. Had there been a free vote, this Bill would not have received a Second Reading.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Diamond
I do not wish to get involved in an argument with my hon. Friend. I do not know whether I should call him my hon. Friend or my hon. Friend once removed. I think he understands what I am saying, and so does the Committee.
I am directing myself not to Parliamentary tactics but to the substance of the argument, and I am inviting the Minister to realise that there is not adequate support inside or outside this Committee for the Bill. The Times stated:The shipping industry as a whole knows the project is not sensible but is silenced by the tradition that dog does not eat dog.Having listened to the Parliamentary Secretary, we now know that sea dog does not eat sea dog. Presumably the Minister has read this article in The Times which describes the Bill asthe legal instrument of this piece of Government folly".Do the Government draw any benefit from carrying on with a proposal which has no enthusiasm in the Committee or in the country, and no support in the shipping industry? The Times, a fairly representative organ, has been more outspoken on this than on any other Government topic for some time.
One has only to read what the chairman of the Cunard Company said when giving evidence elsewhere, to read what shareholders write to The Times, to read that shareholders are selling their shares because they do not approve of the Cunard Company going on with this proposal, and to read what shareholders thought of this proposal at the annual general meeting which they kept going for 100 minutes to realise that there is no enthusiasm even in the Cunard Company for this project. What chance has a difficult enterprise like this of being successful unless from the start there is considerable enthusiasm for it in the Committee, in the country, and particularly among those who will have the responsibility of running it year after year for fifteen dreary years, with competition getting more and more difficult?
Having regard to what has happened since the Second Reading, and especially 773 since the Minister knows that there are conflicting interests in the Cunard Company, I should have thought that he would have realised that the Government should be protected by independent directors on the board of the proposed Q.3 company. The other directors of the Q.3 company will do merely what Cunard wants them to do, namely, promote its interests in Eagle Airways. Where the two conflict, the duties of the Cunard directors would be to support the shareholders' interests which may be totally different from the Government's interests as a loan creditor. The only sensible thing to do is to have independent directors to put forward at the board meetings the views of the two conflicting interests objectively and to invite those involved not to vote, as we do in this Committee or in any council meeting. But we have not even got that. Surely these conflicting interests underline the argument that we have been promoting.
It is very easy for the Minister to get out of this. He does not have to have difficulty with his back benchers or with us—not that that matters so much. He can easily go to Cunard and suggest terms which it will accept. Cunard is not keen on this. If the right hon. Gentleman proposes to Cunard a steep increase in the interest or asks for a share in the profits the Cunard Company will not stick to this for a moment. It would serve the interests of the country best and would promote the real cause of the shipping industry to go into its problems fully instead of merely supplying a palliative which will help one shipyard for a short time and will leave the industry in as bad a position as it was before.
§ Mr. Peyton
Such is the eloquence of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) that had he gone on a little longer he would have come perilously near to persuading me to support the Clause. This proposal is one which I have never liked since it appeared, like a rabbit out of a conjurer's hat, in our party manifesto at the time of the General Election. I have a great deal of sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Minister, on whose plate it landed. What he has dome with it is certainly to improve it in minor respects, but I am 774 the last to envy him the task of handling it.
The Government are in a little difficulty in that they cannot produce the Chandos Report as an argument. Had it been available to us—I quite understand that there are good reasons why at is not—it would have been a fair argument for them to have played against those who do not like the Bill. As things are, however, we have not seen the Chandos Report, we do not know the terms of reference and, therefore, as an argument, it should weigh very little with this Committee.
One of my principal reasons for disliking this whole proposal is its very haphazard nature. On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) made it clear that his only reason for supporting the Bill was that it would be a measure of unemployment relief. I do not believe that this haphazard Measure is in any way the best means of helping an industry which, to put it politely, has more than its share of unsolved problems.
The second point I want to make strongly is that the shipping industry and shipbuilding, the shipping industry particularly, have been bedevelled by the evil American practices which we have seen for many years. I fully realise that it must be exceedingly hard for the Government, even if they ally themselves with the other traditional maritime Powers in Europe, to persuade the Americans that in the long run such policies must be disastrous for all who have at heart the interests of the shipping industry.
One of the most serious charges that can be made against this Measure is that it ignores the basic needs of the shipping industry as well as of shipbuilding. I do not want to go info all the arguments which have been adduced against the Bill, and with which I largely agree, but a further serious matter is that at the very time when we are considering the advisability of giving a large measure of subsidy to one company, we are confronted with a disgraceful set of conditions in our docks and in our means of handling our ships. We are an island living by our trade, and yet our docks and our ports are old-fashioned, antiquated—
§ Mr. Peyton
I am obliged to the hon. Member, who has a good deal of knowledge about it. A great deal of our dock and transport system is old-fashioned and antiquated and ill befits a country which admittedly lives by its international trade. In these circumstances, I find myself condemning the Clause more and more on the grounds of its haphazardness and its failure even to begin to touch the fundamentals of the problem which is having the most serious effect upon our trade.
I warmly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who drew attention particularly to the way in which the weight of the argument against this proposal had accumulated since it was first made. I do not share the views of those who, from time to time during these debates, have made reflections against the Cunard Company. Neither am I in the least concerned to follow those who have cast doubt upon the usefulness of a replacement "Queen", because that is beyond my competence to judge. What I do feel strongly, however, is that we in this Committee would be exceedingly wrong, against the background of a grave, perilous financial situation, to give any further countenance to a proposal of this kind. It bears no mark whatever of careful planning, consideration and fitting into a general framework designed to tackle the problems of these great industries. I am bound to say, without using any strong words, that I do not like it at all, and I shall find myself quite unable to support the Clause in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Bence
I would not have spoken on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" but for the fact that several times a statement has been made which creates a picture which is not exactly correct. It does not seem to me to be in order, but the statement has been made and so it must be in order. Anyway, it was allowed, and I want to answer it. I trust that I shall not be out of order, but I thought that when the statement was made it was out of order.
The statement was that during the election a promise was given on the Clyde that two "Queens" would be built on the Clyde. That promise was not given. What was done was this. There 776 was a very remarkable and competent performance in St. Andrew's Hall, great eulogies of praise being paid to John Brown's and that company's wonderful record of excellent shipbuilding, and to how ships from that yard were known all over the world, ships like the "Vanguard" and the "Queens". The Prime Minister gave a promise that if his party was returned the two "Queens" would be replaced. The whole Scottish Press "went to town" about it saying, "The Prime Minister has given a pledge that the two 'Queens' will be replaced." My opponent put out a leaflet saying that this would mean work at John Brown's.
§ Mr. Bence
Everybody in Scotland thought it. That was the picture created, and, no doubt, that was the picture which was intended to be created. That was the situation. I got an affirmation that the "Queens" would be replaced, but not necessarily by John Brown's.
I was surprised by the attack made on the Yarrow Admiralty Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). He criticised that Committee.
§ Mr. Bence
The Committee's views are very good views. I have seen a rough draft—I saw one two years ago—of the hull design and the machine design. It is a very modern power unit, a light power unit, and with the hull design and the general structure of the ship there will with lower power be generated a higher speed than that of the old "Queen Mary". Therefore, when my hon. Friend suggests, as others, too, have suggested, that whichever yard builds the ship will build it to a specification which is already out of date, that is nonsense. Even two or three years ago I saw the draft of a ship which 777 was twenty years ahead of any ship sailing the seas today, excluding perhaps, the "Canberra".
The consultants' fees which the Government paid were £8,000. Surely no shipbuilding firm which tenders for the contract will tender on a specification for a propulsion design which is already out of date? That would mean that that £8,000 would have "gone down the drain". Then, indeed, the qualities of the Yarrow Admiralty Committee, which my hon. Friend says he praised, he should have criticised.
§ Mr. Bence
The design and the tech-ideal details were submitted to the Yarrow Admiralty Committee, and the general technical design and the propulsion design have been contributed to by the Yarrow Admiralty Committee. No doubt, Cunard engineers have played a part in it, and so have John Brown's engineers, but it is the Yarrow Admiralty Committee which will bear the responsibility for whatever comes off the drawing board. I agree that what is eventually launched will be dependent on the marine engineers, the shipwrights, the platers, and all the rest of them—those who work in our shipyards.
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who seemed to think that some yards are better than others. I would be satisfied if that ship is built in a British yard on the same ideas as I have already seen. I do not care which yard in Britain it is built; it will be a splendid ship, and as good as any sailing across the North Atlantic today.
Unlike the hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin), who definitely said that if she thought the statement made by my hon. Friend was correct she would not be supporting the Bill, I say that if information came to me that the ship was not to be built on the Clyde, I would still support the proposal to build a liner for the fast service across the North Atlantic. It is all very well to say that sea travel is a dying industry. I do not believe it. It is true that air travel across the North 778 Atlantic has gone up, but so has sea travel. Let us also remember that these liners carry a lot of cargo as well as passengers.
Within a few weeks, France will have a huge liner for the North Atlantic ferry. The United States will have a sister ship to the "United States". Are they all wrong? Are there to be no more big ships across the North Atlantic? Is the United States to build no more? France is building one, and she will have a sister ship to that one. The Dutch are also contemplating a new one. Are they all fools? Are they to be the only people to have a North Atlantic fast service? Is Britain to drop out of it?
We have already been driven out of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The whole of the British services, including the coastwise services, have been driven out by the subsidy practices of the Indian Government. The Canadian Government have taken action against British shipping on the Great Lakes and the Seaway, and the United States is also trying to drive us off the Great Lakes and the Seaway. Are we to be driven back everywhere, all over the world? When we are driven back, are we then to sit here and say, "These things do not pay, anyway; therefore, let us retreat and let them have them?" Of course the North Atlantic route is profitable. We have heard about a ship of 40,000 tons for the North Atlantic, but two ships could not do a weekly run all the year round on the North Atlantic and give the comfortable sailing that a vessel of from 600 to 800 ft. in length can give.
The Yarrow Admiralty Committee itself says that the ship needs to be at least between 600 and 800 ft. for the North Atlantic for the winter and summer service, and that is what the fast service is for. While I agree with my hon. Friends that we should have directors on the board of the company, I feel rather resentful of the fact that here is a company which, with Government finance, could have a wonderful ship, well in advance of its kind, which will be the most advanced ship ever built, and it is to be built by a shipbuilding industry which receives no support from the Government, but the parent company or subsidiary is able 779 to buy a form of travel which has had more Government money spent on construction than any other industry in the country.
I have worked in the aircraft industry for a few years. I was lent to it as an engineer, and the way in which public money went into it is nobody's business. If we had had as much public money in that industry in 1958 and 1959, we would have swept the world with motor car production. The aircraft industry has had millions of public money. Let us not talk about private enterprise in the aircraft industry. Every aircraft in this country is indirectly subsidised by taxpayers' money, through the aircraft manufacturers, but our merchant fleet comes from yards which get no help from the Government.
There is another point to be considered in this conflict between air and sea. Over the last century our shipbuilding industry has had at its disposal sonic of the finest naval research establishments—propulsion and hull—in the world. It could beat the world in design. We had the finest naval research and development establishments in the world because we had the biggest navy in the world. Now the situation has changed. The Americans are in that position. The American shipping industry, which is almost entirely State-owned and State-controlled, has at its disposal probably the most efficient naval establishments in the world, because it has a huge Navy. Our Navy has dwindled, and our shipbuilding industry has no rock, as it had in the nineteenth century.
The aircraft industry has a rock. It has Farnborough, and millions of pounds are poured out in research upon aircraft construction. Other millions of pounds go in rocket design, which is all of use to aircraft design. The shipbuilding industry cannot compete. Now Cunard Eagle is going into the aircraft business across the North Atlantic, where we already have 15 competitors. It will be going in, in the main, with aircraft designed as a result of the use of public funds—because these Boeings will be powered with Rolls-Royce engines, which are the best engines in the world. I have travelled in a Boeing aircraft—
§ The Temporary-Chairman (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke)
The hon. Member has 780 great knowledge of the shipbuilding industry. I would ask him to try to direct his remarks as far as possible to the North Atlantic sea route.
§ Mr. Bence
Yes, Sir Harry, but we are here dealing with a subsidiary company which is engaged in both forms of traffic across the Atlantic. It is to run an air service and a sea service. The taxpayer has subsidised the development of the air route for the last thirty years, but we now have objections by some people because he is being asked to do the same in respect of the sea route. That is why I was making the comparison. The power units of modern aircraft are the result of the expenditure of public money. Whittle, who invented the jet, was a public servant.
§ Mr. Bence
I had better not follow up the interjection of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), or I shall get into deep water. I admit that I have a constituency interest in the matter. Although I am worried about some aspects of the Bill, and about public money going to private enterprise, with no Government financial interest involved, I think that I can speak for most of Scotland—I can certainly do so for the shipping constituencies—when I say that we have been driven back on all the oceans of the world over the last twenty years, by subsidy practices and flag practices of the United States and other nations, and that we now ought to stand for no more retreat. If they cannot play an international game on common ground we must play them at their own game, and remain a great maritime nation.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) said that this evening's 781 speakers could be divided into those who had a constituency interest in the Bill and those who had not, but I believe that every hon. Member and everyone in the country has a constituency interest in it. Red herrings have been drawn backwards and forwards across the trail all the afternoon and most of this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) and the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who, I am sorry, are not in their seats, spoke at great length about the shipbuilding industry and air transport, but these subjects cloud the issue, which is whether the Government should spend £3¼ million—and I emphasise that £31 million—on subsidising this liner. If the Bill is accepted the Government will lend £18 million, but the amount of public money spent on this ship will only be £3¼ million out of the £30 million and more that the liner will cost.
Why has this money to be spent? I, too, deplore the fact that companies, particularly in the shipping world, have to be subsidised, but after our Second Reading debate it must be common knowledge that our main competitors in the North Atlantic trade—the United States, France and Italy—subsidise their lines. To talk about money being given to air transport and whether or not Cunard is to go into air transport only befogs the issue of whether Cunard should continue to run a North Atlantic service on behalf of Britain in competition with other maritime countries.
If Cunard is to do that at all, it must be put on the same footing as that on which other countries put their lines. I deplore the fact that the company has to be subsidised, but we must face the facts. Until other countries abandon their policy of subsidising their mercantile marine, we must subsidise ours, because we are much more a maritime nation than Italy, France or the United States.
I would ask those hon. Members on both sides who criticise the Bill to look at the facts, to look at the North Atlantic traffic, and then to ask themselves whether it is desirable that Britain should continue to run this North Atlantic service. I ask them to think of the indirect benefits—the benefits, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has said, to our ship- 782 building industry and to our prestige in the world as a result of running this regular service. I ask them to think of the other indirect benefits that we gain from tourists—particularly Americans—who stop off at Southampton and spend time and dollars here before going on to the Continent.
I believe, with the Chandos Committee, that unless we have a large liner like this on a weekly service, Britain will have to drop out. It is not economic to talk in terms of a smaller ship. A smaller ship could not run a regular service during the winter. If we are to keep up this regular service, and thereby have the custom of the American tourists to whom I have referred, and if we are to have the prestige value of having built this large ship, we have to accept the Bill, and accept what is, when compared with the subsidies provided by other countries, a small subsidy for the Cunard Company.
I tried to avoid any particular reference to the shipbuilding industry, but I was grateful for the flattering references made to the firm of Harland and Wolff, which is in my constituency, by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) and other hon. Members. We have built a very fine liner—the "Canberra"—which again, has been referred to often in this debate. It is one of the most advanced vessels in the world. If Harland & Wolff win the contract—and I am convinced that it will be a fair battle—we shall produce an even better and more advanced vessel than the "Canberra", capable of standing up to any other in the world. Even if we do not win it there will be other orders for other boats.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I think that we must concentrate on the order which the Government are placing in this Bill.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McMaster
If this order goes to another yard the result will be for the benefit of the shipbuilding industry in every yard in the country.
I deplore the blackmailing tactics of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) who, in introducing the debate on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", suggested that an ultimatum should be given to the Cunard 783 Company that unless it withdrew its air traffic it would not get this money. I have never heard anything more disgraceful or known more disgraceful tactics than were suggested by the right hon. Member.
§ Mr. Diamond
I did not hear exactly what the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) said, but perhaps some other hon. Members did. Did he refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) as using blackmailing tactics? Will he repeat it now that my right hon. Friend is listening?
§ Mr. McMaster
I thought that the right hon. Member was listening to every word I said. He did not seem to dissent at all from anything I said.
§ Mr. Diamond
On a point of order. As I have confirmation that the hon. Member did refer to my right hon. Friend using blackmailing tactics, may I ask, Sir Harry, if that word is in order?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I do not think it was out of order, although I think that perhaps the hon. Member might have used another expression on that occasion.
§ Mr. McMaster
I, of course, withdraw the remark and do not apply it personally to the right hon. Member. However, I suggest that for the right hon. Member to say that an ultimatum should be issued to a company is something of which this Committee cannot approve. To suggest to a company such as the Cunard Steamship Company that money will not be granted to it under a Bill such as this unless it withdraws from another part of its ordinary commercial activities is not a right or proper threat to make to any company.
§ Mr. Strauss
Is it not perfectly proper for the Government to say, "We shall not lend taxpayers' money to the company if that company is to use that money indirectly for damaging the interests of the taxpayers"?
§ Mr. McMaster
I am afraid that the right hon. Member is simplifying this too much. As we say in logic, it is a reductio ad absurdum. He suggests that because we take a step to lend money to a company to enable it to continue a 784 traffic which is vital for the prestige of this country we should use that to force the same company to withdraw from something it has entered into under a Measure we have recently passed by which it would attempt to end a monopoly of which this party does not approve, an attempt to interfere with the North Atlantic air traffic. To run contrary to that policy would be to put the car into reverse.
§ Mr. McMaster
The hon. Member can hardly have been listening to the earlier part of my speech. The Cunard Company has not a monopoly.
§ Mr. McMaster
There is only one line from this country running a daily shipping service across the Atlantic.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. This has not much relevance to the Bill, and I should be grateful if the hon. Member would get back to the Bill.
§ Mr. McMaster
I was attempting to answer points made earlier by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, but if that is not in order I will leave it and return to the main purpose of my remarks.
I submit strongly to the Committee that we should vote in favour of this Clause standing part of the Bill. It is the main Clause of the Bill. Both air and sea traffic across the Atlantic is increasing, has been increasing and will increase. There is room for both a shipping service and an air service. The fact that the air service has been increasing the more rapidly of the two does not mean that the use of the shipping service has been declining. As prosperity increases, the number of passengers travelling across the Atlantic by ship will increase. The number of people who fly one way and return by sea will increase, 785 and it is most important that Britain should play her full part in carrying these passengers by sea.
§ Mr. M. Foot
I have listened to the whole of the debate on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and to most of that which took place earlier in Committee and I have read the whole of the report of the Second Reading discussion. This has been one of the most extraordinary debates ever to have taken place in the Chamber. On the face of it, this was not a Measure which was controversial between the parties. If the Government propose to assist in building a ship one assumes that they will get the technical facts right in the first place. On the face of it, it should not be a Measure which would give rise to any extraordinary Parliamentary scenes.
But that has not been the case. I doubt whether a Measure of this nature has ever been so mauled in the discussions in the House as this Measure has been in Committee and on Second Reading. When he spoke after the Minister on Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said that the Minister's speech had had a curious reception from the Conservative side of the House, and everything that he said has been confirmed in the debate.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that the whole long series of speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite constitutes a most formidable attack upon his Measure. He cannot deny that. We are therefore faced with a situation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) said, in which the only people who have dared to support the Measure are those who have a constituency interest. I am not saying that they are doing it for any improper motives. I am making no accusations against them. But it is evident from the entire discussion that the vast majority of hon. Members are opposed to this money being voted. If we add the indications in speeches of hon. Members opposite to the indications from the vast majority of hon. Members speaking from this side of the Committee, it is evident that there is a strong view in the Committee, probably an overwhelming view, that this Bill should not go through. Yet the Bill will apparently go through.
§ Mr. Foot
That is the position I want to examine. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said that by some accident there was not a vote on Second Reading. I am not quite sure what the nature of the accident was, but the accident can be repaired partly by voting against this Clause and also by voting against the Bill on Third Reading. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) explain that he would vote against the Clause and try to knock it out of the Bill but still vote for the Bill on Third Reading. It took all his dialectical skill to get that proposition over. There is no doubt that, if the Clause is knocked out, the whole Bill goes west. If that is the case, why not vote against giving the Bill a Third Reading as well?
Hon. Members may say that it is not very important and that other methods of dealing with the Bill have been proposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester suggested that the Minister should go away and have some quiet conversations with the Cunard Company. One method would be to put up the bill to £30 million, and that would kill it.
There is another method in which it could be done which would not cause the Minister much difficulty. We know that he has to save his face. We know that it is a matter of prestige for him, even if we do not save our prestige on the North Atlantic route. The Minister could force the Clause through on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and then not proceed with Third Reading. He could leave it over for a while. Then in the middle or latter part of September he could publish a demure little announcement in the Press saying that he had considered the question again and, after representations and full consideration, the Bill would be dropped, just as other Bills have been dropped. The Minister could choose a day when the Test Match was on, or a very sunny day, or when the Government had created an economic crisis, or when there was a catastrophe in foreign affairs. He could get away with it then. He has got away with worse things than that in his lifetime. He could get rid of the Bill in that way if he wanted to. Perhaps that is the course he already has in mind. I hope I have not put him off it by describing the method in detail.
787 However, it would be much more honourable for the House of Commons to kill the wretched Bill. Why do we not do so? The vast majority of Members are in favour of killing the Bill. Why cannot we do it?
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
How is it possible to proceed from that assertion, which is perfectly fair, to assume that the same proportion of the silent majority, who perhaps have not attended the debates, are against the Bill as is reflected by those Members who have spoken?
§ Mr. Foot
I cannot tell for certain. I can merely judge by listening to the whole debate, as I have done. I do not believe that anybody who has sat here the whole day could doubt my claim. The overwhelming feeling of the House of Commons is against the Bill. I cannot prove it. However, I can prove it as regards the vast majority of Members on this side, because they will vote against the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". Anybody who votes against Clause 1 standing part and who wants to knock the Clause out of the Bill wants to destroy the Bill. Nobody can get round that. The Minister agrees with me. Everybody in the Committee must agree with my proposition, except my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, but perhaps I have now persuaded him.
§ Mr. Strachey
Of course we want to destroy the Bill as it stands, and we have given our reasons for wanting to do that. But I said that I have a good deal of sympathy with the purpose of the Bill. A better cast Bill could effect that valuable purpose.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
That is a very good argument for voting for another Bill on another occasion. It is not a very good argument for voting for this Bill on this occasion.
788 I do not want to get into a dispute with my right hon. Friend about it. I do not think he will disagree that everybody else in the Committee knows that this Clause is an integral or central part of the Bill and that if we defeat it, we shall defeat the Bill. I am saying that it would be much better not to allow the Bill to become law if, as I think—and as I think everybody will agree I am correct in thinking—the majority of hon. Members are against it.
If we consider the speech of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) which he made during a Second Reading debate—the hon. Member has not been present during these proceedings—we can see, from a quotation which I propose to make, why it is that, although the majority of hon. Members are against this Measure, it will still go through. The hon. Member said:I believe that the Bill should be rejected. I shall not vote against it.That is one of the most remarkable statements since Martin Luther said, "Here I stand, I can do no other". The hon. Member is saying, "Here I stand and I am going to do the exact opposite". That seems to be the doctrine of this Committee. The hon. Member said:I believe that the Bill should be rejected I shall not vote against it. Apparently no one is to propose that it should be rejected and, therefore, I shall probably abstain. In view of the speeches which we have heard from hon. Members opposite, I fail to understand why they did not move the rejection of the Bill.That is the best point which the hon. Gentleman made. It would have been better if we had moved it. But it is a curious doctrine which the hon. Member is expounding, that, because hon. Members on this side of the Committee did not do their duty, that is a reason why he should not do his duty. It does not let him out.
An interesting comment on this speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who interrupted the hon. Member for Sevenoaks at that point to say:Let us do it now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 979.]That is to say, let us reject the Bill now. I always listen carefully to any advice given me by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, and when I saw that he was in favour of 789 voting against the whole Bill it assisted me in making up my mind to vote against the whole Bill, too. I think that that is what we ought to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and myself are always willing to accommodate hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We propose to vote against this Clause and to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill, and therefore we shall provide an opportunity for other hon. Members to vote for what they think is right.
I am not treating this matter in a flippant fashion, because I believe that the procedure under which this Committee votes, or often refuses to vote, on the merits of an issue—partly because the Minister may have made a deal before he came into the Chamber, or because of some meeting which may take place somewhere else—such as is involved in this Bill makes a farce of Parliamentary procedure and brings Parliament into disrepute. What will be said tomorrow? If anyone reads the report of our debate, they will see that on both sides of the Committee hon. Members produced devastating arguments against the Bill, yet the House of Commons voted for it.
This will cost the taxpayers, at any rate, £3 million. Some people say that it will cost much more—£18 million. It may be that it is fastidious of us to worry about all these millions. The Government slap millions about all over the place—£19 millions for the Surtax payers last week and £18 million for the Cunard Company today. Why should we worry about it? But the poor public reads about this and also reads at the same time that there is a financial crisis, and that it finds rather mystifying. It is rather mystifying that we have to find these millions of pounds to save the face of a Government who have not the courage to do what the majority of hon. Members consider it would be in the interests of the nation for the Government to do.
I hope that the Minister will reply in very specific terms to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) as to whether, in fact, when the Government agreed to this proposition of putting up the money for the Cunard Company, they knew about the deal with Cunard Eagle. 790 I hope, equally, that the Minister will supply very specific dates about that. The right hon. Gentleman got rather muddled in his dates when he was replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester but, perhaps, the hon. Member for Gloucester did not get his dates right either, so I suppose that they were quits on that score.
§ Mr. Foot
It is bad enough to have the country run by accountants, but if the House of Commons is to be run by them, that will be a disatser.
As I say, I hope that the Minister will give a detailed answer to that question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, because it raises questions of what I would call corruption—[HON. GENTLEMEN: "Oh"] yes, it could. It raises questions perhaps of bribery and it raises questions of a deal between the Government and a private firm outside of a particularly shady nature. I urge hon. Members to look at the details, because here were a Government making deals—and apparently they are not quite sure of the dates—which were going to inflict serious injury—and no one denies this—on a great public concern. That is why I say that if the Government knew that the Cunard Eagle deal was going through when the Minister introduced the Bill, then the Government were partially misleading the House of Commons about what was going on.
However, the main fact of the matter is—and all hon. Members who have listened to the debate will realise this—not merely that there was a situation in which a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have been critical of the Bill, but that a whole series of hon. Members on both sides have torn the Bill to tatters and, as far as hon. Gentlemen opposite have been opposed to the Bill, several of them—especially the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst)—have said that the Bill is even worse now than it was at the time of the Second Reading. Nothing has happened in the interim to comfort hon. Members who oppose this Measure. That is precisely why there 791 is a Third Reading; so that hon. Members are able to consider what has happened in the interim.
I, therefore, plead with hon. Members who take their responsibilities seriously to vote on the Clause as they feel; and, on the Third Reading, to vote according to what they think are the merits of this Measure. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) will do that, just as those who are opposed to the Measure will vote according to their feelings. As for my hon. Friends, they appear to have made a decision. I do not know when, because they do not invite me to these curious Mau Mau ceremonies, but they made a decision, at some date or other at a private meeting, that they would not vote against the Third Reading.
Even if that were their general purpose and wish and the general sentiment of hon. Members, surely it would be proper for them to test their feelings. It is an extraordinary procedure for the Opposition to come into a debate of this nature with their hands tied as to whether or not they are to vote against the Government on the Third Reading, particularly when my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall was putting the specific challenge to the Government and was declaring that the Government should say to Cunard that unless it calls off the Cunard Eagle arrangement, no money would be supplied.
What happens if the Minister says that he will not pay any attention to that suggestion of my right hon. Friend? If the Minister says, "I am sorry but I cannot do anything about it", my hon. Friends cannot vote against the Third Reading, because the decision not to do so was fixed before the Minister's answer had been received. The House of Commons is supposed to debate and to listen to what Ministers say and to see whether Ministers come up to satisfactory standards. Indeed, we have been waiting a long time. It does not happen very often. Perhaps it will happen tonight; who knows? We are supposed to put Ministers on the spot. But if the Opposition decide in advance, "We are not going to vote against the Government on Third Reading", which is exactly equivalent to what hon. Members are going to vote about when they vote on the Ques- 792 tion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", it makes a mockery of Parliamentary proceedings. I appeal to all hon. Members to vote on the merits of this issue, both on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. Marples
We have listened to a very lively and stimulating speech by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).
§ Mr. Marples
I shall not intervene in the warfare between the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. At the beginning of his speech the hon. Gentleman said that he had listened to this debate for almost its entirety. He has been assiduous in his attendance without even speaking. Most hon. Members spoke and then disappeared from the Chamber, but the hon. Member has been here for most of the time and did not speak until the end of the debate on this Clause.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill has had the most extraordinary reception that he can ever remember since he has been in the House, and he has been a Member since 1945, with a few intervals. But precisely the same thing was said on all the other subsidies given to the Cunard Company in previous years. It was said in connection with the "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth", when they were subsidised. Exactly the same things were said and the same extraordinary reception was given.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that the overwhelming view of the Committee was against the Bill. If it is the overwhelming view of the Committee, the way to test it is to count the votes in the Division Lobby. Then we shall see. The hon. Gentleman made this mistake. He was judging by listening to the number of words which were uttered against the Bill. He should remember that many people support it, but do not speak very violently on the subject.
§ Mr. M. Foot
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have already tried to indicate why a vote might not reveal the real feelings of hon. Members about the Bill. What has 793 the Minister to say about the words of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers), which I quoted, who said that he believed that the Bill should be rejected, but that he would not vote against it? How does the right hon. Gentleman explain that?
§ Mr. Marples
It is up to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) to vote as he wishes. One or two of my hon. Friends did not support the Bill in the Lobby, and they are quite entitled so to vote. But if the hon. Gentleman thinks that by listening to words, as he does, that we can decide which is the majority party, I am bound to say that if that were so the unilateralists opposite would be the winners.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I have hardly left my seat during the whole of the debate since 3.30, not even for a meal, and I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask the Committee to listen to my concluding argument and then come to a decision.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am frightened I cannot help that.
Let me begin with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who gave a number of reasons why he was against this Clause. I agree straight away with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale; if this Clause is rejected we might as well reject the Bill. There is no doubt about that. It will completely wreck the Bill. Let us face it. Those Members who vote against the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" will vote against the whole principle, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, should have voted against it on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hirst
My right hon. Friend is not being absolutely fair. Many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers), have very strong feelings about this matter. We made ourselves perfectly clear on Second Reading. We are against the Bill, but, in view of the Government pledge, we felt that, in principle, there are limits to which we can carry out our objections. My right hon. Friend ought to take that into account.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples
I will take that into account, but there are arguments for and against. If the arguments for outweigh those against, the vote is cast in that direction. It is no good giving one or two arguments against if there are more overwhelming arguments for.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall said that he would oppose acceptance of the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" because none of the Amendments had been accepted. The Committee, as a Committee of the whole House, rejected those Amendments and, therefore, I do not think that that is a valid argument for opposing the Question. He went on to say that, because of articles in the Evening Standard, he knew that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I did not support the Bill. He wanted to know whether that was so. I have read a lot of articles recently in the Evening Standard about all sorts of right hon. and hon. Members—
§ Mr. Marples
I am pointing to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). If the accuracy of the Evening Standard is to become sacrosanct, I should like to read some of the articles written about the right hon. Member for Easington in the Evening Standard. I am sure that he would not subscribe to the truth of some of the memoires which I have read recently. No doubt some day we shall have his memoires and then there really will be an explosion. I am bound to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick, when he writes in the Evening Standard, does not represent the views of my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary or myself.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order. Can you, Sir William, say whether the Evening Standard and someone's memoires are included in the Bill?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
No. But the fact is that I am the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. I think 795 that the Minister should have referred to the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton).
§ Mr. Marples
I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). I would agree with anything that you, Sir William, wrote, without even reading it.
I have read a few of the articles in the Evening Standard written by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I have not yet found myself in agreement with any of them. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to attribute views to my hon. and gallant Friend nor to myself written by my hon. Friend, any more than I am sure the right hon. Member for Easington would wish to acquiesce in the memoires, so vividly written, about those great days between 1945 and 1950.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the shareholders of Cunard. I am advised, rightly or wrongly, that there is one shareholder who has been making some sort of a disturbance. I am told that he has 400 registered shares. At the annual general meeting he said that it was 1,000. I also learn from a report of the meeting that he did not have a great deal of support there. If he musters support, it is up to him to get his views over to the company.
I now come to the point which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall raised concerning the tenders. If the tenders, when they are received, come to more than £30 million, Cunard reserve the right to look at them and perhaps not to accept them. That is only prudent business. When a person who is either building a ship, or is doing some civil engineering work, or anything else, puts the work out to tender, if the tenders which he receives are greatly in excess of the estimate made by the engineers who advised him, naturally he will have to reject them or, at any rate, to put in a modified specification. That is done regularly.
We do it at the Ministry of Transport on a number of contracts and in many cases we have succeeded in obtaining much lower prices. If any company or Government said that they proposed to ask for tenders and that, irrespective of the tenders which were received, would 796 accept one of them, I should have thought that they were extremely poor business people. I therefore whole-heartedly support the Cunard Company. We will examine the tenders on their merits. If they are excessive in price we shall have a discussion about them, but we will not pledge ourselves to accept a tender which is excessive in price and which makes the job wholly uneconomic.
The right hon. Gentleman a number of other hon. Members opposite were somewhat alarmed about the decision of the Air Licensing Board. That does not come within the responsibility of my Ministry and it would be inappropriate for me to put forward any view on the matter for this reason. B.O.A.C. has clearly stated that it intends to lodge an appeal. The statutory period within which such an appeal can be lodged starts today and lasts for three weeks. In those circumstances, the issue must be considered potentially as sub judice, and Ministerial comment would be wrong at this stage.
One further point was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and it was also referred to, I think, by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West. It was that by giving this subsidy, which is £3¼ million grant, and the difference by way of loan at 6½ per cent. at the Public Works Loan Board rate, the Government were, in fact, giving the Cunard Company money which it could invest in aircraft going across the Atlantic. If we reject the Bill Cunard will have £12 million more to invest in aircraft going across the Atlantic, because it will not invest it in this ship. That is precisely where the right hon. Member for Dundee and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall were wrong.
Cunard came to the Government and said, "Considering the highly subsidised competition in the express service across the Atlantic, we cannot compete unless you give us some help. We do not ask for a lot—half what the French are getting on the capital costs of their ship and nothing compared with what the Americans get. We cannot go it alone because we are facing subsidised competition."
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Did the right hon. Gentleman know at that time that Cunard was going into the air business in a big way?
§ Mr. Marples
I am coming to that, but, first, I should like to deal in order with points which hon. Members have made. Cunard said, "Treat this on its merits. We cannot compete with our private enterprise money against Government money elsewhere. Give us a little help and we can do it." We have given the company less help than the United States gives and less help than France gives on capital cost, and nothing on the running costs. France gives something on running costs and so does the United States. It cannot be said that the company has been treated generously as compared with its competitors. If this Clause is thrown out, there will be £12 million more money for the company to put into Boeings to cross the Atlantic and compete with B.O.A.C., which is what right hon. Gentlemen have objected to.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton) rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I cannot give way again. I have given way a great deal earlier, and we must come to a conclusion on this Clause. A number of hon. Members have made speeches which I should like to answer.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West assumed that this would take considerable traffic from B.O.A.C. They made that assumption on the grounds that air traffic will remain stationary. It will not remain stationary. As prosperity increases in Western Europe, more people will spend their excess money in travel. The right hon. Member's assumption, to my mind, is wrong.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) said that privileges were being given to private enterprise. I must say that we are not giving this to a private enterprise firm which is competing with other private enterprise firms which receive no subsidy. This is giving a small subsidy to a private enterprise firm competing with private enterprise firms in other countries which are getting a bigger subsidy. We have to face up to that. This decision was taken absolutely on its own merits, irrespective of what other activities the Cunard Company indulges in.
What would the House have said, and what would the shipbuilding people have said, if we had taken no action at all 798 with regard to the express passenger service? I wonder how critical the public would have been if we had decided to ignore the skills we have in this country in building passenger liners of great quality. Comments have been made about the competitiveness of our shipbuilding yards in other classes of ship at this time. There is no doubt that in some cases we are not competitive, but it is quite clear that in the quality of our passenger liners we have nearly always been supreme. This gives us an added reason for keeping that supremacy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who expressed his doubts in his quiet and reasonable manner, which is always so effective, said that he did not have a great deal of confidence in this venture. That may be so, but I must say that, if the venture fails—I say "if" it fails—the main burden will fall on the Cunard Company, because it is putting up the equity, as it were, of £12 million and the Government are limited to a maximum of £18 million. The cumulative depreciation fund also will go to the security of the Government's loan. The Government loan will be £18 million altogether—
§ Mr. Marples
Less the grant—it would be about £14¾ million, I think, with the outright grant of £3¼ million; but there will he the depreciation fund available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that people like great ships. That is true. If we go in for a ship of advanced design, not necessarily of revolutionary design but of advanced design with comfort greater than is provided by any other express service across the Atlantic, we shall cream the traffic. Although we in the House may say that we should go by air, many people do prefer to go by air one way and by ship the other way. That is the fact.
An institute which hon. Members opposite support wholeheartedly has said that this is so quite recently. I refer to the Institute of Directors. I know that hon. Members opposite will treat that organisation as one knowing something about these things. The Institute of Directors has recommended anyone going abroad to go by sea one way and by air the other way.
799 My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) dealt with some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West. I must say to my hon. Friend that the ship will earn dollars and, if we in this country do not earn the dollars from American tourists who travel by sea those dollars will go either to the United States or to France. On Second Reading, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave some very powerful figures to show the amount of dollar currency that this country would earn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East talked about the ship going to Clydeside. This ship will go—I emphasise this—to the shipbuilding yard which submits a tender which gives the Government and the Cunard Company the best value for money, technically and financially, and also—we must consider this carefully—in delivery date. About 1964 or 1965, the old "Queen Mary" will be faced with tremendous running costs and we therefore want the new ship to replace it in, I think, the spring of 1965, so that we may have it running that summer.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was very fair in his remarks. He said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not really promise that the two "Queens" would be built on the Clyde, although, for some reason I do not myself understand, the Clyde inferred that that would be so. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West asked specifically for the words in which the Prime Minister made the promise, and she was not given the actual words. I think that the Committee will agree with me when I say that the Prime Minister never made, in words, such a specific promise.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Diamond
Can the Minister explain the statement of his predecessor on 8th April, 1959, when, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), he said:This is a matter"—that is, the replacement of the two "Queens"—which is at present under discussion between the Government and the Cunard Steam-ship Company, which is in consultation with Messrs. John Brown & Company."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1959 Vol. 603. c. 200.]800 Can the right hon. Gentleman explain, also, the further statement at the Cunard annual general meeting on 28th May, 1959, when the chairman said that he hoped that the keel of the first new "Queen" would be laid almost certainly at John Brown's Clydebank shipyard?
§ Mr. Marples
A hope expressed by the chairman of Cunard cannot be translated into a promise by the Prime Minister. Not even an accountant can perpetrate that trick on me. Naturally, John Brown's were consulted and talked to, because they built the previous "Queens", and Yarrow yard was also consulted and the chairman was talked to. Those discussions took place in the spring of 1959, with Lord Chandos and all the other people concerned.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not, either in letter or speech, promise that the order would go to any particular yard. If my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) wants confirmation of that and looks at Clause 3, for which I hope she will vote, she will find that subsection (3) states:It is hereby declared that this Act extends to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Mellish
It is fair to say that when the Prime Minister made his speech to the Clyde shipworkers they certainly were not under the impression that he was saying that the order would go to Belfast.
§ Mr. Bence
The Minister has referred to my remarks in which I dealt with the Prime Minister's speech on the replacement of the "Queens". Even my Conservative opponent put out a statement in a leaflet that the Prime Minister had promised the replacement of the "Queens" and that this would mean work for John Brown's. The whole of the Scottish Press inferred from the Prime Minister's words in Glasgow that the ship would be built at John Brown's. The Prime Minister did nothing to contradict the whole of the Press propaganda.
§ Mr. Marples
To translate discussions with John Brown's, a hope expressed by the Cunard chairman, and something put in an election address by somebody who fought the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East into a 801 promise by the Prime Minister, is something which no stretch of the imagination can support.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) spoke of featherbedding, asked how we could forecast ten years ahead and said that the order for the vessel would not give any more help than to one yard. That is not quite so. An enormous amount of work on the ship will be subcontracted to nominated subcontractors in some cases and, in other cases, to subcontractors selected by the firm. Therefore, as in the case of the previous "Queens", there is no doubt that the order will give a tremendous amount of work to the shipbuilding yards generally. Naturally, it will give most of the work to the firm which secures the tender, but other work will be going out to other yards and subcontractors, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) said when he interrupted his hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton.
The hon. Member for Edmonton raised a number of technical points which I should like to discuss with him later, because they are so technical. I am informed—I do not know whether it is right—that the hon. Member was wrong in his specification of twin-screws and the four screws. I will read carefully the hon. Member's speech and take it up with Yarrow yard and see whether I can write to the hon. Member about his technical points.
The hon. Member asked whether the engines would be of advanced design. The answer is that they will be of advanced design, but not revolutionary. The reason is that to go further would be to risk irregularity in service, whereas reliability is extremely important for a ship which must maintain a weekly service across the Atlantic. The steam conditions specified call for machinery of the highest present-day standards. Great attention will have to be paid to the ship's weight and the weight of everything on it, because the ship's service draught has been limited to a figure that will enable her to use Southampton at all states of the tide.
The specification by the Cunard Company is a broad one. The tenderers have scope for varying the precise dimensions and power so long as the 802 vessel conforms to the length required for fast crossings in heavy weather, but the tenderers have been more tied down in regard to the engine. Yarrow yard has been consulted and will be consulted again, and firms outside the marine industry. We shall use all the technical resource of the Yarrow yard when we are assessing these contracts.
The hon. Member for Edmonton also went into the size of the ship, which we discussed exhaustively on Second Reading. All I can say is that the Cunard Company, with all its experience of this express crossing, has said that the ship must be of such length that it can go across the Atlantic in all weathers, and the company has, I think, more knowledge than anybody else of running this service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) made a very trenchant and powerful speech. I made a mistake earlier; I thought that he was on my side until he spoke a second time.
§ Mr. Marples
His speech was, I thought, more full of inaccuracies than I thought he would be guilty of. He said, first, that we were helping Cunard, but that we had no security. The company cannot get more than 7½ per cent, till we have been paid off—7½ per cent. per annum. This is giving us the security we want, so I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. If the ship costs more than £30 million—and the Committee is being asked to pass £18 million as a contribution at 4½ per cent. in the altered form I explained earlier: it is no more—we shall have to come back to the House and ask for more.
I made it clear in my negotiations with the Chairman of Cunard that we would go to a maximum of £18 million in a ratio of three to two. That was the maximum. Anything above that would be the Cunard pigeon, as it were. That is in our interests in keeping it down. Otherwise, human nature being what it is, there might not have been the same care shown, no matter how admirable the directors were.
§ Mr. Marples
The previous Chairman of the Cunard Company before Sir John Brocklebank—Colonel Bates—came to the Government, for it was he who started these proposals, and he said, "We cannot afford more against this subsidised competition than £12 million." The building of this ship is a separate venture. He said, "That is all we can afford against heavily subsidised competition."
§ Mr. Marples
I do not think so. If I were I should be very sorry.
The right hon. Member for Easington was quite right—
§ Mr. Marples
I am sorry now that I referred to those articles in the Evening Standard. It is quite clear I have lost one of my best friends. I am bound to say that I am very grateful, because the right hon. Gentleman acquitted me of being the villain of the piece, as I think he put it. He asked me some questions, but if he does not want them answered nobody will be more grateful than I.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West I repeat again that if Northern Ireland produces the best tender Northern Ireland will get the job.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) spoke about the size of the ship and referred to the next "Queen". The next "Queen" will, I think, not be five years, as I think he said, although I know that he was not pinning himself down to five. It may be about eight years, because the "Queen Elizabeth" is expected to have a slightly longer life than the "Queen Mary". However, whatever it is, before that decision has to be made, we can see what the traffic trends are and what happens between now and then, but it would be folly for the Government to say at this stage precisely what they will do in the future. We have got to see what happens.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), in a very reasonable speech, said that we picked this firm out of the hat—I think that was his expression—in order to give a subsidy. That really is not true, because the Government have 804 subsidised the fast crossing of the Atlantic for seventy years and to the Cunard Company. The "Mauretania", the "Lusitania" were given these subsidies, so that I do not think that it can be said that it has been picked out indiscriminately in order to give a subsidy to this company, which, after all, represents this country and its place on the North Atlantic route.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. MacMaster) said that he hoped we would give a job to the best firm, and that if it went to Belfast he would be satisfied. If it went elsewhere, he would not mind, as long as it went to the most efficient firm. I think that that is true.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees, asked whether the Government knew that the Cunard Company was going into Cunard Eagle. The answer is that before the Government made their decision they did know that Cunard was buying shares in Eagle Airways, but they had to treat this ship on its own merits, which they have done from the beginning, and they have not varied in their purpose. The company has said all the way that all it can afford is £12 million, without help, to replace the ship.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
It can only afford it because it is going into the air.
§ Mr. Marples
No, I do not think so. The company said that it could only afford it because it is facing subsidised competition. That has been said before, but I repeat it again. The United States gives 58 per cent. of the capital cost, the French give 20 per cent., and the Cunard Company said that unless we could give it something they could not afford it, so we are giving it 11 per cent.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I cannot give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman came in rather late this evening. We did not have the benefit of a contribution from him earlier. If we had had, no doubt I could have answered his points.
We have been treating this on its own merits, which, I think, was the right thing to do. The Government have never varied in what they have done. If the 805 Cunard Company gets £12 million more, it can invest it in the air.
One or two points were made about the Chandos Committee. I regret that I got the date of the announcement wrong. The Committee was appointed before my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister actually made the speech referred to. Cunard approached the Government in 1958 and there were discussions between the Government and Cunard right throughout 1959. That has been quoted from the Answer, which one hon. Member read out, given by my predecessor to a Question, and the Prime Minister's speech on Clydeside was after that and did not precede the setting up of the Chandos Committee.
I am sorry that I have been so long, but I have tried to answer most of the points raised. I am very grateful to the Committee, and I hope that at this late hour we may now come to a decision on the Clause.
§ Mr. Willey
We have hardly had a satisfactory reply from the right hon. Gentleman, and I find myself in the position in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) thought I would be in. I have waited to hear the right hon. Gentleman first. We all know that, were it not for the efficiency of the Patronage Secretary, this would be a funeral. The right hon. Gentleman has produce no reason for us to change our minds, following upon the discussion which we have had on this Clause and on the various Amendments which we have discussed.
I want to pick up one point. The right hon. Gentleman after I intervened on the point about the Chandos Committee, has withdrawn. I take up another point. He created the impression that the Government had discussions with Cunard on the question of Cunard Eagle, and the right hon. Gentleman will remember that in Committee, I interrupted the Parliamentary Secretary and asked whether there had been any discussions, and he said "No".
§ Mr. Willey
The Parliamentary Secretary said that as far as he knew the answer was "No". Since then he has written to me—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.