HC Deb 03 April 1968 vol 762 cc378-429
Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 14, at end insert: In any draft of a scheme involving more than £250,000 of public moneys there shall be an accompanying memorandum stating all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment as to the merits or demerits of the scheme, with especial emphasis upon profit forecasts and assets valuations.

Mr. Speaker

We are discussing with this the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) to the Amendment, in line 1, leave out from 'scheme' to 'there'.

Mr. Price

This Amendment had some relevance to the exchange of points of order that we have just had, as it is aimed at trying to ensure that a minimum of information is made available to the House when we discuss industrial investment schemes brought forward under the Bill.

Many hon. Members may have fallen into the same error as I did. When I read subsection (2) of Clause 1, I came across the phrase "a draft of the scheme". I admit to the House that I got into difficulties in Standing Committee on that phrase, because I was rash enough to think it actually meant what it said; that, when a Minister was bringing an industrial investment scheme before the House under this Clause, he would produce a draft rather like a White Paper which, according to the terms of this subsection, the House would be invited to approve, and subsequently the Minister would bring forward the statutory instrument technically and probably more narrowly drawn than the wider draft scheme. I was put right in Standing Committee and told by the Minister that the phrase "draft scheme" means a Statutory Instrument before it has passed the House. The phrase "draft scheme" is Parliamentary legal jargon.

I am sure that the House will agree with me that, in order for the House to approve or disapprove an industrial investment scheme, it must have adequate information upon which to decide the merits of such a scheme.

If hon. Members doubt the risks that are involved in the possibility of the House getting inadequate information, I would ask them to look at Clause 12, upon which points of order have just been raised. The Clause allows the Government to purchase the Beagle Aircraft Company. If they study what went on in Standing Committee they will see the struggle we had to elicit from the Government sufficient information to enable us to form any opinion as to whether this was a good buy or a bad buy for the public purse.

My Amendment endeavours to address itself to how much information it is reasonable for the House to require. Is it possible to lay down precisely the heads of information that we will require in every set of circumstances? In drafting this Amendment, I considered whether one should lay down certain heads like capital turnover, number of employees, and so forth. I came to the conclusion that this would be difficult. If one was inclusive in the heads of information that one wanted, they might be inappropriate to some of the smaller schemes which the right hon. Gentleman has it in mind to promote under the terms of the Bill.

4.0 p.m.

It seemed to me that we could do a lot worse than use the words I suggest when I ask for …an accompanying memorandum stating all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment as to the merits or demerits of the scheme, with especial emphasis upon profit forecasts and assets valuations. I have taken those words from the New City Code on Take-overs and Mergers, which will be familiar to some hon. Members, and which was worked out by the City Working Party under the chairmanship of Sir Humphrey Mynors, who is a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and is currently Chairman of the F.C.I.

That document says: Shareholders must be put into possession of all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment as to the merits or demerits of an offer. Such facts must be accurately and fairly presented and available to a shareholder early enough to enable him to make a decision in good time. The obligation of the offerer company in these respects towards the shareholder of the offeree company is no less than its obligation towards its own shareholders. Without in any way detracting from the imperative necessity of maintaining the higher standards of accuracy and fair presentation in all communications to shareholders in takeover or merger transactions, attention is particularly drawn in this connection to profit forecasts and assets valuations. Under the terms of Clause 1, we in this House are put in the position of being trustees for the mass of taxpayers who, in respect of this Bill, are akin to shareholders. In view of that, my proposal should command general sympathy.

I have put a lower limit of £250,000 in my Amendment. I observe that my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has tabled an Amendment to delete that limit. However, the House may recall that the Minister told us in Standing Committee that, under the provisions of the Bill, he intended to carry out a number of quite small schemes. He quoted as an example pre-production orders for machine tools. He went on to explain that he saw three types of scheme emerging. There was the small type of scheme which might be almost in the nature of launching aid. There was the large but probably single company type of scheme, and Beagle Aircraft might come into that category. Then there were the much wider schemes which are specially dealt with under Clause 3. All three types come under the provisions of Clause 1. By putting on this lower limit, it seemed to me that one would be dealing with the major schemes and leaving out the minor ones.

I said in Standing Committee, and I repeat for the benefit of the House, that I believe we should concern ourselves rather more with the large sums than with the small sums. I would like to take the old adage about looking after the pence and letting the pounds look after themselves and put it the other way round. If we in this House look after the millions, the thousands and ten thousands will look after themselves. We ought to be interesting ourselves in the major schemes, and it is for these major schemes that I seek further information than we can guarantee getting under a draft scheme. It must be remembered that such a scheme will be prepared by Parliamentary draftsmen who will try to restrict the wording of it to that which is strictly necessary for legal purposes and will not necessarily include the sort of information which right hon. and hon. Members will require to make an economic and social judgment of whether it merits their support.

I hope that my Amendment commends itself to all parts of the House. May I remind hon. Members of paragraph 8 of the White Paper which accompanied the presentation of the Bill? The Ministers promoting the Bill said: It is time to establish a rigorous, independent and consistent system of appraisal for these cases to ensure that Government help is provided fairly and economically. At the same time, provision should be made for more effective and rapid Parliamentary scrutiny of individual projects. It is in pursuance of that intention that I move the Amendment.

Mr. Ridley

I agree strongly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) has said about the Amendment, and I shall support him in a few words later on in what I have to say.

First, I question whether it is wise to have a lower limit. Any scheme under the Bill should be subject to the full rigours of scrutiny, with the figures being made public for all to see before any investments of this sort are made. I take my hon. Friend's point that we should concentrate on the millions and let the small amounts look after themselves. However, I cross swords with him when he attempts to turn round the old adage. If we look after the pence, the pounds will look after themselves.

The Bill should not be used as a vehicle for making a lot of minor investments in industry. I am against the principle of the Bill as a whole, but this is not the time to discuss that. If we are to have this sort of interventionism, each scheme should be clearly delineated and set out with all the relevant information before being brought before the House and the public for scrutiny.

I am sure that it is wrong for the Government to go into a series of minor investments under a Bill like this, and I cannot think of examples where investments under 100,000 will be made. This is no area for Government intervention. It is one for banks and merchant banks. By removing the lower limit in my hon. Friend's Amendment, it is made more difficult for the Government to engage in these small-scale schemes. They are not the main purpose of the Bill. In view of that, I hope, on consideration, that my hon. Friend will agree to accept the principle of the Amendment that I have tabled to his Amendment.

As a whole, my hon. Friend's Amendment strikes me as being eminently reasonable. I hope that the Minister will not merely say that he is being very kind in giving more information than is usual on such matters, which appears to have been his line throughout the Committee proceedings. It is a new departure for the Government to make industrial schemes and purchase equity shares, as it were, at will as an act of administration rather than as an act of legislation on an ad hoc basis. As I say, I do not agree with the principle but, if that is to be the new departure, at least the same standards of financial correctness should be adhered to as those adopted in the Stock Exchange and between companies making takeovers and mergers.

I have not had time to study the prospectus which has been issued on the Beagle Aircraft Company, but I do not believe that there is enough information in it for any trained accountant or businessman to make an informed judgment on whether the price paid for Beagle is right, what the prospects of the company are, and what the prospects for a return on the taxpayer's investment will be. It does not give forecasts of future profits or forecasts of future sales, nor tell the history of past profits or losses, nor of past sales. It is not only asset value which one requires. One requires a whole wealth of informed detail about past achievements and future prospects. This must be cross-checked before investment is made and all the information must be made available.

Mr. Benn

To help me in replying on the Amendment, could the hon. Member answer this question? When he talks of investment, is he referring solely to those cases where some equity holding might be negotiated, or is it his view that the Government can give away money but if there is an expectation of a return on it that is a different matter? His own party gave away tens of millions without any provision being made for any return.

Mr. Ridley

I am glad that the Minister asked that question because it enables me to make my position clear. By buying equity one enters into a limitless commitment. If one buys the equity one owns the business until one can get rid of it, and it might be for 1,000 years. During that period one is liable to support the losses and to find the new capital of that business—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] It is absolutely true. If the Government are to make loans they can make them on terms and have a purely terminable liability.

If the Government are to make orders or development contracts they know exactly what they are getting and can make tenders for the work to be done by contractors. In the making of loans and development contracts there is a whole world of difference in financial implications. Before the Government buy the liabilities of companies for years to come the viability of the organisations should be clearly demonstrated and made abundantly clear to all. For that reason I support the Amendment and I hope my hon. Friend will look favourably upon my Amendment to his Amendment.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) on this Amendment. I consider it one of the most important Amendments we shall debate today, because it underlines part of the principle which the Bill sets out to establish. The Amendment seeks to ensure that the Government shall provide the same sort of information on a takeover as the Government would require private industry to make available to the public in general on the takeover of a major company by another company. The Amendment requires the Government to act and live with the same disciplines as the Government want private industry to live with when it is on its own. It is quite wrong for the Government to suggest that there should be one standard for themselves and one for industry.

4.15 p.m.

I go a little further into the detail of the way in which I hope the Amendment might be applied. It is not a new idea, not even a new principle because under the I.R.C. procedure the Corporation had an interest in English Electric and Elliot Automation and in the Rootes-Chrysler Corporation link up. A very detailed statement was prepared, not by the Government but by the bankers, Lazards. It set out the sort of information which we are asking that the Government should make available when they are acting, not under the I.R.C. procedure but under this Measure. It seems not unreasonable that this Measure should stipulate that the Government should make this information available.

It became apparent in Committee that information may be made available during discussion of an Amendment. A considerable amount of new information was suddenly made available with reference to the Beagle Aircraft Company. With all this mass of statistics and economic and financial information we were able to ensure that the Minister would publish a statement. The outcome is the document which has now been made available. The Government have already accepted the difficulties and that this information should be made available, but it is not good enough to have it made available merely when the proposal comes to the House with the draft recommendations which the House could debate. This Amendment asks that the information should be made available at the time of the promulgation of the draft Order. Then, when we deal with it in the House, we can be properly and fully informed of the financial background necessary for the debate.

In the statements that were produced for the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation on the two mergers of which I have spoken, there were listed in considerable detail a statement of existing business, why the Corporation was considering making the investment, what the profit forecasts were, what were likely to be the dividends in future, and an historical summary, not only of the activities of the two companies involved, but also of the previous Stock Exchange prices, so that people could judge what sort of deal it was. Information as to discount cash flow in the forecast for the future should also be made available.

A matter which perhaps the Government may consider they are in difficulty over has been made clear by the intervention by the Minister. They see a difficulty between the exact take-over where shares and equities are being purchased and perhaps the sum of over a quarter of a million which may be given in launching aid or by some other method which would not make an exact parallel to that which I have used in my argument. I admit that difficulty. Even so, it does not seem that it would not be possible to have a financial statement showing why the quarter of a million pounds of Government money, even if it were only in launching aid, was made available. That would not be a dividend forecast nor even any decision on the profitability factor, although I would have thought that the d.c.f. rate would be something that the Government would be interested in before making the investment of a quarter of a million pounds available.

I go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) to a considerable extent. Statements of lower amounts might in some ways be even more important because they can reveal where small sums of money are being given to small organisations which could provide unfair competition between one small firm and another and we would not know anything about it. A new corporation, which I will call "Benn Emery", might be formed. Thirty thousand pounds or £40,000 might be advanced by the Government. Churchill's or another organisation might be able to do all the experimental work at a much more reasonable rate and without a subvention of £33,000 or £40,000 from the Minister. This is why I believe that such information should be given. The aspect of unfair competition is, we must recognise, one of the nasty anomalies which the Bill will create.

Rather than pressing the Minister for something which I do not believe we have a hope of obtaining, it makes more sense on Report to table an Amendment which coincides nearly with the Ministry's thinking. It was in the hope that we could get the Minister to accept the Amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh left it as the level of £¼ million.

I believe that there should also be a statement about the industrial relations of the company or companies concerned. In Committee a number of hon. Members opposite made valid points to the effect that it was reasonable in any such takeover that the workpeople should be told what the state of industrial relations was in the companies concerned, what the union activity was, and what the employer/employee relationship had been and might be in the future. This information, too, should be made available to the House. I hope that on this ground alone hon. Members opposite will see the relevance of the Amendment and, if the Government do not accept it, some of the more active trade unionists opposite will support us in the Lobby.

I repeat that the Amendment sets out to ensure that the Government must make available to the public the same type of information that public corporations when taken over have to make available to their shareholders. If that is not the discipline which we should demand of government, I do not understand what standards the Government require of themselves.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be dissuaded by some hon. Members opposite from carrying out further developments in the way of assistance on small schemes. I believe that there are a number of ways in which small sums can have a very disproportionate effect, by being brought to bear at the exact point where they are needed.

One of the most important aspects of the Bill is the need to maintain flexibility during what I consider to be a very innovatory phase and one full of possibilities for success—and for failure. My right hon. Friend will need to be conscious at all times of the importance of his giving as much information to the House as he can. He must give at all times, as far as he is able, information both as to the cost of his schemes and as to the benefit. I interpret "benefit" in the widest possible way. There is the danger that some future Minister—not my right hon. Friend; I know him too well—will use this as a means of propping up inefficient industries. This is a danger of which the House would need always to be fully aware. The other danger—that we may fail to back the right type of industry, because of insufficient experience—is one which I hope that the development of a body of experience will dissipate.

In providing money at risks there are very great dangers, most of which are known to hon. Members. We have a Government Department with a little experience in this matter, but a need to gain much wider experience. The idea of making use of men outside the Civil Service is admirable. We also need men in Government Departments with a closer understanding of industry and of the way it works. It is unfortunately true that at present in these matters Whitehall does not know best and that it should know much better. It needs to be able to bring such people into the Civil Service, to make use of their abilities, and to cooperate with those who will make the final recommendations. It is in this area that much improvement is necessary and, I believe, possible.

I have viewed the Bill with increasing hopes over the past few months. There are ways in which it can be used very imaginatively. The advantages which were found to be possible with the N.R.D.C. can arise in increasing measure from the Bill, too.

On any occasion when the Government are to give money to industry I shall want to be able to decide—and to have the means available to me to enable me to decide—that the Government are right. I shall need very wide, full and frank information to enable me to decide that the Government have acted wisely and are improving their competence in these matters.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made a very effective speech in favour of the Amendment. He expressed his anxiety, which I share, lest the Bill be used to prop up inefficient industries. This is just one of the things we are worried about. The hon. Gentleman went on to make a belated confession of a fact well known to us, namely, that Whitehall does not know best and that it should know a great deal better. With the latter part of that sentence I agree even more than I do with the former. Whitehall certainly should know a great deal better. If it were to secure to itself the service of the type of omniscient industrialists whose advice, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, would obviously be valuable, I rather doubt whether a Bill such as this would appear. I believe that those industrialists would probably concentrate their attentions on the tax system under which we labour and would certainly not be prepared to countenance or to support in any way a system the prevailing weakness of which is to shore up inefficiency and to penalise and hold back success.

I enthusiastically support the Amendment, though I would go along also with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who desired to amend the Amendment. If the Government are to distribute their favours by way of small investments here and there, I see no reason why they should not be called upon to explain matters in detail, because much abuse and many weaknesses could follow from any indiscipline here.

The Minister, when he interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, gave us a glimpse of the character of Socialists. Socialists always expect slavish support for anything that one's own party has done. That doctrine does not go with me. It is not an argument which washes or which ought to wash. Any political party which has not got the modesty to admit from time to time that it makes the most fearful mistakes is not much good. One of my major complaints against the Labour Party—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing on the Amendment whether there should be a memorandum.

Mr. Peyton

I am coming to that almost immediately, Mr. Speaker. What I am concerned about is the doctrine that some political parties are so competent in their judgment that they do not need to make any explanation. This is why there is the need for this modest memorandum.

For the life of me, I can see nothing objectionable or obnoxious in the Amendment. What do the Government fear? The key words in the Amendment are "informed judgment". If the Minister rejects it, the House will be justified in concluding that the very last thing he wants is an informed judgment and he is at all costs anxious to avoid it. Can this be so? No Minister, so far as I know, has ever stated directly that he would not like an informed judgment to be possible. At certain points in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman himself at least went through the motions of pretending that it would be a good thing if the fullest possible information were given. If he was sincere in those professions, as I have no doubt he was, he has n easy course to take now. He should accept this modest Amendment requiring an accompanying memorandum giving the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment. What in the name of conscience could be the objection to that?

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

These are the Minister's words in Committee: …I shall arrange for a duplicated memorandum to be produced. It will not be very long. The Committee will understand that this is done under the old procedure. We hope to do better in future with projects which come under the Bill. I shall do my best to see what can be made available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 14th March, 1968; c. 407.] The right hon. Gentleman met the point the whole way. I see no reason why he should not meet it in practical terms now.

Mr. Peyton

I am obliged for that helpful intervention. That is the sort of remark made by the Minister to which I referred and on which I base my hope that he will accept this modest Amendment. Yet one's experience in this place forces one to believe that Ministers do not wish to waste time or hear unnecessary arguments, so that, had it been in his mind to accept the Amendment, he would, I imagine, have leapt to his feet, as soon as it had been moved, to say that he intended to accept it. That would have given force to the words which he himself used in Committee and which my hon. Friend has very properly quoted.

We want information and material on which we can check the judgment of the Treasury and Ministers. I know, from a cursory reading of the proceedings in Committee, that the right hon. Gentleman has a good deal of confidence in Treasury judgment, and I dare say he has a good deal of confidence in his own, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Kenneth Baker), who is sitting just below me, will be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman that that is not a view which is widely shared throughout the country. Confidence in the Government is not high.

We should be comforted a little on this side if the right hon. Gentleman would rise at the end of this brief debate and tell us that he was overwhelmed not only by the power of the arguments which have been mobilised but by the force of what he himself had said in Committee, and that he would allow the Amendment to be incorporated in the Bill. In so doing, he would dislodge the fearful suspicion which is now dawning in some people's minds that the last thing the Government want is an informed judgment.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

I support the Amendment as proposed to be amended by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). For my part, I would not lend a penny to this Government or any other for the purpose of acquiring industrial, trading or commercial enterprises. The great British public has been bamboozled during the past 12 months by the title of this Measure, the Industrial Expansion Bill. It ought to be called the Proliferation of Nationalisation Bill.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I wish it were.

Sir G. Nabarro

Yes, the Left wing of the Labour Party, which fervently believes in Clause Four—the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange—would prefer the title I have postulated. However, I shall not explore that avenue. It would be out of order on this Amendment, and I shall not be led out of order and into such matters by the Left wing of the Government party. I have postulated what I regard as the true title of the Bill.

The Amendment is designed simply to require a proper company prospectus to be laid before the House of Commons. It would be illegal under our company law for any offer to be made to the investing public in a newspaper or journal without the provision of comprehensive financial and historical details of the enterprise, to be acquired by the shareholding public. We are all acquainted with the form of such prospectuses. They include details as to the history of the enterprise, its products, its assets, its prospects, its profit record, its depreciation principles and policies, its export performance, its board of directors, its bankers, its legal advisers and auditors—a mass of detail. Even the smallest public issue often occupies a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times, in very small print.

We are all acquainted with that practice. It is a safeguard for the investing public. The only real safeguard for the investing public in the context of this Bill, however, is the perspicacity, intelligence and industry of Members of the House of Commons. It is no good the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) nodding his head in dissent—

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)


Sir G. Nabarro

I shall give way in a moment, when I have finished my sentence. It is no good his nodding dissent. Why would he be less scrupulous with a public enterprise than with a private enterprise? Perhaps he will answer that.

Mr. J. T. Price

As the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to give way, I shall try to answer his rhetorical question.

Sir G. Nabarro

It was not rhetorical.

Mr. Price

I have been asked why would I be less scrupulous than private enterprise in administering public enterprise. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, and his lecture on company law, my record of being scrupulous is at least as good as his. Moreover, whether companies carry public money or not, if they are registered companies they are still liable to the company law of the land, as amended last year.

Sir G. Nabarro

I do not dispute any of that. What I am saying—this is indubitable—is that private enterprise is disciplined by the profit motive. Public enterprise is not. Public enterprise can lose hundreds of millions of pounds, and the deficit will ultimately be written off by the House of Commons, at the expense of taxpayers. Does anyone deny that?

Mr. Eric Moorman (Billericay)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir G. Nabarro

When I have finished what I am saying. Does anyone deny that statement? I should go too far from the Amendment if I pointed to £400 million-plus written off as the accumulated losses of the Coal Board.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

What about Savundra?

Sir G. Nabarro

That was a swindle, and Savundra was prosecuted and went to prison for swindle. I hope that no parallel case occurs in nationalised industries. But I am digressing. I am rising to hon. Members opposite.

What I am trying to demonstrate to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) and others is that standards observed in private industry should be matched by nationalised industry. The hon. Member for Billericay will agree, and if they are so matched then the newly nationalised industries under the Bill—because that is what they are; they are State acquisitions wholly or in part—should conform to the same stringent standards as are imposed on private industry, which is required to publish fully authenticated and voluminous, copious financial and historical detail when the great investing public is invited to purchase shares.

Mr. Moonman

I shall not take the hon. Gentleman down any devious alleyway. He raised the question whether the same standards would apply in public enterprise. I remind him that in the amended Bill we now see the word "profitability". The question of the efficiency and profitability of an industry is now in the Bill, and I should have thought that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

Sir G. Nabarro

It does not. It does not satisfy me in the depth I require to judge the future of the industries to be nationalised. Clause 1(2) states: '…a draft of the scheme has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of the House of Commons.

Mr. Orme


Sir G. Nabarro

Do let me get on. I shall give way in a moment. That draft scheme laid before the House could be 50 words. It could be just a pottage of legal jargon and could give none of the comprehensive information I seek. I give way to the hon. Gentleman once more.

Mr. Orme

This is a very important point. I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very closely, but when he talks about accountability and shareholders being consulted I wonder how many individual shareholders were consulted about G.E.C.—A.E.I. take-over. Is not it a question these days of shares being in huge blocks within the control of huge organisations and the small shareholder not being consulted at all?

Sir G. Nabarro

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. He must go away and try to learn the rudiments of British company law. Every shareholder is consulted before a take-over of that kind is completed. The offer is published in the public Press and on a given date it will "go unconditional", as it is called. In the interim period all the shareholders are consulted. Any acquisition of a publicly quoted company by another is subject to the approval of shareholders under company law. The hon. Gentleman must not argue about matters of which he has not even the tiniest knowledge.

I want to address to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Technology a few arguments which I hope he will appreciate, as he sat through most of them in the House, have great relevance to my hon. Friend's Amendment. He will be aware that between 1947, the year of the first of the post-war nationalisation ventures, namely in coal, and 1967, 20 years later, every part of the House was learning painfully how to deal with the exceedingly complex problem of the accountability of nationalised industries. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman nods assent at once.

We were all in it together. The Labour Party, when on this side of the House, was even stronger in supporting me when I sat on the benches opposite through the early 1950s than were my Tory colleagues. I had to divide the House again and again against Tory Governments on the issue of securing proper accountability for nationalised industries. When Mr. Aubrey Jones was the Minister of Fuel and Power in 1956 I took a mixed bag of 40 or 50 hon. Members of all parties into the Lobby against my own Government on the issue of the amount of information with which we should be furnished annually in the House, to assess accurately—

Mr. Peyton


Sir G. Nabarro

May I just finish? My hon. Friend never gives way to me. I shall give way when I have finished this sentence, or perhaps a paragraph more.

4.45 p.m.

In 1956 we had to divide against the then Government on the specific point of being furnished in the House with adequate annual information concerning the nationalised industries, and the real nub of the argument was that without the information, or without these data once or twice a year, we could not assess reliably the profit prospects for the industries, and the sum of money we should vote annually for capital investment. The position is exactly the same here with my hon. Friend's Amendment. Unless we are given comprehensive information under the various headings I suggested, none of us can assess the future prospects of the industry.

Mr. Peyton

The moment has rather passed, but I was about to say that my hon. Friend was confusing autobiography with history, and to suggest to him that if he sometimes used the first person plural as an alternative to the first person singular it would be more accurate.

Sir G. Nabarro

My hon. Friend is historically extremely inaccurate. On the occasion when we were on the opposite side of the House when he said, "Not I,"—addressing his comment to me, for I used the term—"but we", because his name was after mine on the Order Paper, we were arguing about steel loans. I am alluding to the incident in 1956, which is four years earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil did not join me in the Lobby.

Mr. Benn

On a point of order. I do not want to prevent this, but we appear to have two hon. Members giving a preview of their autobiographies which has very little bearing on whether the House should know anything about the schemes.

Sir G. Nabarro

Autobiographical or historical, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil has forgotten the facts.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

The hon. Gentleman was a junior Minister.

Sir G. Nabarro

He was not a junior Minister until 1962.

I am now coming to the end of the 20 years in 1967. The culminating point in the campaign to get proper information was the publication by the present Government of Command Paper No. 3437, "Nationalised Industries: A Review of Economic and Financial Objectives". These are the disciplines the right hon. Gentleman should observe in creating new nationalised industries. He was a part of the Administration which published those economic and financial objectives. Why does he object to these desiderata being applied to newly nationalised industries, or are they to be applied only to industries nationalised pre-1967 and not post-1967? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer that, because Command Paper 3437 is quite specific. Paragraph 2 says: The statutory duties of nationalised industries are set out in the nationalisation Acts. Broadly they are to meet the demand for their products and services in the most efficient way and to conduct their finances so that over time they at least break even, after making a contribution to reserves. In paragraph 6 the following pregnant words are used: Investment is fundamental to economic growth and largely determines the way in which industries develop. It then goes on with delineation of a large number of economic disciplines which I shall not repeat. But what I shall repeat is the fundamental of the whole of this vitally important Command Paper, to be found on page 16, for here the financial objectives of the nationalised industries are set out, as they should be, of course, quite properly. It sets out the net returns on capital employed in each of these industries. But see how they vary.

The Post Office, 8 per cent.; the National Coal Board, to break even after interest and depreciation; the electricity boards, 12.4 per cent.; the South of Scotland Electricity Board, 12.4 per cent.; the gas boards, 10.2 per cent.; B.E.A., 6 per cent.; and so on. Every industry has a different financial objective. How are we to tell when industries, newly to be nationalised, under this Bill—for that is the circumstance—

Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

Nothing of the kind.

Sir G. Nabarro

They are newly nationalised industries. Of course they are. They are nothing else.

Mr. Small


Sir G. Nabarro

We will, I hope, deal with these differences on a later Clause, but my interpretation of the Bill, and, I hope, the interpretation of every Tory Member, is that this is a proliferation and an extension of nationalisation—nothing else.

Before I can judge whether an industry ought to be nationalised—although politically I think that no additional industry ought to be nationalised—before I can judge the financial position and profit prospects of what is to be nationalised, I must have applied all the disciplines and all the desiderata set down in Command Paper 3437, without which I should not be able to form a reliable judgment.

Mr. Ridley

It may be that, after last Thursday night's traumatic events, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) is trying to deny that nationalisation is the basis of the Bill because lie knows that it is jolly unpopular and lie is quite ashamed of it.

Sir G. Nabarro

I must leave the hon. Member for "Scotstown" to his conscience.

Mr. George Willis (Edinburgh, East)

The hon. Gentleman does not even know how to pronounce it.

Sir G. Nabarro

"Scotstoon", then. I am not a Scot but a Sassenach and "Scotstown" is good enough for me. But I must not digress. For all the reasons I have explained, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote powerfully in support of the Amendment as amended, because I believe that every scheme under this Bill, be it costing £10 or £10,000, ought to come before this House. I am pledged as a Conservative politician to oppose every additional measure of nationalisation and £10 to me is a substantial sum of money especially when misapplied in additional public ownership.

Mr. Small

We all know that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) will never travel incognito. We have had that malicious, emotive use of the word "nationalisation" as portraying a compulsory element in the Bill which it does not possess. The hon. Gentleman entertains and sometimes in Forms the House, so perhaps he will tell us where he finds any compulsory element in the Bill. But it does not exist. The ground rule in the Bill is an accommodation between Government and industry, based on equality of information, whereby they can make a matching arrangement for launching agreements in open covenant in a draft scheme approved by the Treasury and laid before this House. It will all be in the open.

We all recall the old Ministry of Aviation and the millions of £s handed over to the aviation industry in arrangements which never saw the light of day in this House. I do not want to be too malicious, but I would remind the House of some of the things which went on. I recall the Ferranti affair, which many of us described as the "gravy train". A later case was that of Bristol Siddeley. Some of my colleagues in the engineering industry say "Make an arrangement with the Government and you get the lolly, boys."

We would not have got Wiggins Teape in Scotland with the attitude of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. This Bill is designed to modernise practices in an absolutely legitimate manner in terms of information afforded to hon. Members. The arrangements will be permissive. There will be no compulsion. The arrangements will be arrived at on a voluntary basis and the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South should not be suspicious and mislead others by giving the appearance of being a well informed industrial intellectual in his own right.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

We are debating this Bill in an atmosphere of genuine and widespread public anxiety about the growth of public expenditure. I am not saying that to make a party point but because it seems to me to make it all the more important that we should lean over backwards in appraising legislation which is to open up fresh fields for public expenditure and in making sure that the House is as fully informed as possible.

I support the Amendment because I was exceedingly disappointed by the unconvincing attitude of the Government during the Committee stage. The Minister said several times, in one of those fine phrases we so much enjoy from him, that part of that objective is to bring Parliament into play. But it seems to me that, unless we can improve the Bill at this stage, it will be like inviting a friend to take part in a cricket match and then sending him in to bat left-handed with a child's bat and one arm tied behind his back.

It is only open to the House to accept or reject but not to amend a draft Scheme. The least we can do is to put a firm obligation on the Government to give at least a minimum of information to the House on the lines suggested by the Amendment. When discussing this point in Committee, the Minister said: …in big schemes it is manifest that we would want to make available to the House an idea of the scheme, and the debates on it would no doubt be full and complete."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 15th February, 1968; c. 18.] But how can we have full and complete debates on this unless we have the certainty of full and complete information? Undertakings given in Committee, and which may be repeated today, are not quite enough in this case. We must write a clear commitment into the Bill itself. The public sector must set an example to the private sector by the amount of information which it makes available before decisions are taken, and this is all the more important when public and not private money is involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) said that he had not written in the Amendment an exhaustive shopping list of all the things which he wanted to be set out in the memorandum. I should like to stress one factor which is already partly covered—the importance of market analyses, market forecasts. I hope that we shall have the Government with us in this, because several times in Committee the Government stressed that it was no good producing an excellent product if there was no market for it.

I hope that there will be no quibbling or legalistic objections to the Amendment. If the Government do not accept it, or something on its lines, they will confirm our suspicions that, for all the fine words of the right hon. Gentleman, here is another example of the Government treating the House of Commons with contempt.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)

I support the Amendment. Like every other hon. Member who has spoken, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small)—I can pronounce it "Scotstoon", because I am 50 per cent. Scots—I think that we should not have two standards of information available to the investing public, and that is what would result from the Bill as drafted. There is a standard rightly required by the House and the country as a whole for those who invest in public companies through the Stock Exchange and their brokers and so on. Here we are required to have a separate standard for those members of the public who, by paying their taxes, place their money in the hands of the Government to invest. As shown last Thursday, the public does not have much confidence in the Government to act as the Government, let alone as stockbrokers. Why should we have two standards of information? Why cannot we have precisely the same amount of information as is required if a person invests through his broker with expert professional advice, having this information before any public money is put into any industrial scheme?

The hon. Member for Scotstoun said that there was no compulsion, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Narbarro) that this is a Bill for nationalisation. There is also compulsion in that those who pay their taxes and thus provide the money have no option about whether it is put into any scheme. We in this House are the sole guardians of that. I am not arguing on behalf of the companies into which the money will go, but for those who provide the money and who look to us to provide the safeguards and checks and controls, the very control of which the Minister spoke on the Second Reading when he said that Parliament would have more direct control over the money. If we are to have the control which we must have, we need sufficient information to exercise it properly.

We must not stop with the information which would be required for investment through the Stock Exchange, investment in new issues and so on. We need more information than that, because when public money is put into a scheme, other considerations must be relevant. For instance, the consequences of such a scheme involve a degree of subsidy and we should be told what the extent of the subsidy is and who in competing lines of business will be affected.

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in saying that, if the amount involved is of sufficient significance for it to be included in an industrial scheme, the House should be given the information so as to make an informed judgment. But rather than give the Minister the excuse that that would mean going into unnecessary details and making his task imposible—although it would be an excuse which I would not accept—I am prepared to support the Amendment applying the limit of £250,000.

Mr. Bence

I have been amazed by some of the speeches from the Opposition this afternoon. During our 13 years in opposition we regularly asked the Board of Trade why grants had been refused to companies setting up in development areas, and we were always told by Conservative Presidents of the Board of Trade that it was not the practice to reveal the business of private companies applying to the Board of Trade. We were always told that the Board of Trade Advisory Committee had examined the matter. Now those very hon. Members who wholesale supported their Government in refusing us that information demand that the affairs of any limited liability company should be revealed to the House of Commons. I shall take the earliest opportunity to associate my few business friends with the information that the new Conservative Party demands that the private affairs of Wiggins Teape and B M.C. and Rootes at Linwood and the hundreds of other companies which in the last 15 years have had Government aid of all kinds should be made public.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the full and detailed in formation which every company has to publish in its accounts? We have not been promised even that amount of information.

Mr. Bence

I was about to deal with the amount of information supplied to investors. I do not know how many business men among hon. Members opposite have ben caught, but in the last 50 years many people have been caught by making investments in companies which have quickly "gone bust". Only recently some people have gone to gaol for issuing false information. I sometimes wonder whether the very able people to whom I might entrust funds for investment are as able as I believe them to be. When I read reports in The Financial Times of various carryings on and of the issuing of false prospectuses, I wonder whether I would not be better investing all my money in Government Development Bonds rather than bothering about going to the Stock Exchange, especially when half-a-dozen people have gone to gaol recently for issuing false information. I have never heard of a Minister of State going to gaol. Ministers are never accused of false pretences. The information pub lished by limited liability companies is very slight.

Mr. Sheldon

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware that the practice was common a few years ago, and probably still exists, for many public companies to present their chairman's annual report and for the reader to be unable to find out what the industry concerned was.

Mr. Bence

Friends of mine have investment income from companies and yet do not know what those companies manufacture, and some of them do not know where the companies are. One of these companies is quoted on the Stock market—Hector Whaling. Some of my friends thought that it was connected with whaling in the South Atlantic, but it has not been engaged in whaling for a hundred years.

Hon. Members opposite demand that the Government should reveal the affairs of any private company with which they have dealings.

One should accept the capacity of the Board of Trade Advisory Committee and the Treasury, together with the integrity of the Civil Service, to examine the situation to see whether assistance is justified. This kind of demand is opposition of a despicable kind, because it is not genuine. Every hon. Gentleman opposite is talking with his tongue in his cheek, and he knows it. It is opposition for the sake of opposition. It is pure humbug and does not make sense. I am sure that no one on the Front Bench opposite can justify the demand that no aid of any kind should be given to a company. We are to advance £70 million to Rolls Royce to enable it to support the greatest achievement of any company in this country in the last 100 years. This is a terrific break-through. Are we to demand that all the accounts and affairs of Rolls Royce should be produced before we finance production?

Sir G. Nabarro

The Rolls Royce accounts are published in detail every year, in accordance with the Companies Act. They need not be presented to the House. We are talking about companies to be acquired when no accounts will be presented to the House.

Mr. Bence

These are not companies to be acquired. The hon. Gentleman has made my point. Any limited liability company which will receive any grant or aid from the Government will be a company which will have published its report. It has to publish a report, and will already have done so in the limited area in which it is operating. Every detail is not included in the Rolls Royce accounts. I hate to call it a detailed document. This is nonsense. There is a lot of information in it, and there may be sufficient for one who wants to invest in the company, but it is not a fully detailed information of the business. Any public company has to publish that information, why ask for more?

Mr. Peyton

Has the hon. Member read the Amendment? I am not sure whether he was in the House when it was moved. He will see that the Amendment is asking for the statement of facts necessary to make an informed judgment. That is all. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that an informed judgment is undesirable?

Mr. Bence

Not at all. In my view, some of the events of the last 10 years have shown that a lot of stockbrokers and investors are very inexpert in making an informed judgment on how they invest funds. We had a great national bank investing £4 million in pigs in Glenrothes. This was one of our leading Scottish commercial institutions which invested in Cadco. Its judgment must have been pretty bad. Knowing my right hon. Friend I do not believe that he would lend £4 million to Cadco to breed pigs. I would rather have his judgment than those who judged that this was a reasonable investment. No one has made a case that the ordinary investor is in a better position to judge from the information available to him than my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Emery

I do not believe that the hon. Member was in the House when I spoke about this Amendment. Would he not agree that it is right for this side of the House to demand that the same degree of information is made available by the Government when take-overs are made as the Government require industry to make available when public companies are making take-overs? Is it not right that there should be the same standard of behaviour?

Mr. Bence

The accounts of any public company involved will be published. One can acquire these accounts. There is no need to put this in the Amendment. In the discussion going on between companies, factors are revealed which would not be in any public accounts or prospectus. One cannot ask any Government Department, just as we could not ask B.O.T.A.C. to reveal every position of a company. Hon. Gentleman know very well that B.O.T.A.C. and the Government on behalf of B.O.T.A.C.—when there was a Conservative Government—refused to give any details beyond what was published in the company accounts. This is sheer, unreasonable humbug. It is nonsense to demand every detail from every private company.

5.15 p.m.

Sir Tatton Brinton (Kidderminster)

A number of my hon. Friends seem to be puzzled as to why the Government are not prepared to accept this Amendment providing a large amount of information for this House. I can enlighten them. If they will look at page 2 of the Bill, under Clause 2 they will see that financial assistance is to be given in circumstances where it would not be undertaken: …without such financial support as is authorised by this Section. In other words, the ordinary sources of finance are not available.

The suspicions which my hon. Friends and I have about the Bill are amply confirmed by the attitude of the Government towards this Amendment. We believe that they are seeking enormously wide powers to use public money for an enormous variety of purposes. They are unwilling to accept any plan to furnish more than minimal information, because they intend to use the powers in the Bill in ways which may go well outside the demands of any commercial consideration. It is up to the Government to disprove our suspicions by accepting the Amendment.

We have no definition as to what the draft Scheme will contain. It may be a very bald document which merely says that a competent authority has considered it politic to invest an enormous sum of our money in some enterprise—it might even be a new groundnut scheme—which the competent authority is satisfied would provide us with a strategic, social, or even some commercial advantage. They will not give us any definition, because they say it would not be good for us. That is what this amounts to. When we seek to introduce what is surely the most reasonable Amendment in the world demanding some definition as to the sort of information to be contained in or added to a draft scheme we are told: "Go away, it is not good for you to know."

It is a matter of great concern to many people inside the House and outside of it that its powers are being steadily eroded. Here is another example of this. From the drafting of the Bill it is obvious that it has many purposes besides that given in the Title—which I denied by an Amendment I moved in Committee—to expand industry. It has many other purposes and one of them as we know well, is to satisfy the demand inside the Labour Party, at its conference and National Executive Committee level and from a number of hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway, to carry on with Clause IV and nationalise everything in sight. This is a compromise Bill, we know that. The nation has a right, if the Government have to stagger on for at least a few more months, to demand that in satisfying the Left wing the Government should also satisfy the House that they are putting forward some arguable case for their proposal.

I have no doubt that the Government have no intention of doing anything else other than making this an enabling Bill with sweeping powers. I hope to point to a case where they have vastly extended the already wide powers contained in the Bill. The Government intend the Bill to do almost anything in almost any enterprise, with almost any amount of money, with the minimum of Parliamentary supervision.

Mr. Willis

We have had a lot of hypocrasy and humbug in this debate. If any question is raised in the House about revealing matters affecting private companies, it comes from hon. Members opposite. One has only to be present at Question Time when Questions are put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to know the furious demands which the Opposition make that nothing private should be made public. This happens week after week, and on Bill after Bill.

I remember the Highlands and Islands Bill, for which I was responsible. The Clause which was fought most vigorously by the Opposition was the Clause which allowed the Board to obtain information from private firms. More nonsense was talked about that Clause than on any other part of the Bill.

Mr. Peyton

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is another latecomer to the argument. What we are complaining about is that the Government are proposing to invest public money, and our Amendment seeks to ensure that such material and information is made available to allow an informed judgment to be made. It is a very modest request. The right hon. Gentleman is way off the target. Even his capacity is not sufficient to get him on the target.

Mr. Willis

I am quite capable of taking time to explain what I mean.

May I remind hon. Members of some of the Bills which we have passed? There was £20 million or more for the Cunard Company. I do not know that we heard any special emphasis on profit forecasts during the passage of that Bill. In fact, most hon. Members doubted whether the concern could be profitable, but they thought it necessary for other reasons. How much did the steel firm in Motherwell get for the tin plate mill—£40 million. I do not remember any forecasts about profitability being made in that connection. As I understand it, the concern has made hardly any profit. It has not been profitable. But it was necessary as a social development.

There was a special Bill for Wiggins Teape which involved £12 million. Who forecast the profits which Wiggins Teape would make from the pulp mill? Nobody. No spokesman for the Conservative Government told us anything about that.

Mr. Bence

What about Rootes at Linwood?

Mr. Willis

Hon. and right hon. Members opposite were sitting on the Government Front Bench at the time, but nothing was said about profitability.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

Does the right hon. Gentleman grasp the distinction between prior charge capital and equity capital?

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman is trying to confuse the issue. All that I am saying is that hon. and right hon. Members opposite asked us to pass Bills—and in this Bill we are asked to pass schemes—which did not call for the information which is asked for in this Amendment. I have quoted specific examples. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) was not a Member of the House when these Bills were passed, but I can assure him that none of the information for which the Amendment asks was called for in those Bills. We got no more information than my right hon. Friend the Minister will give in his schemes.

Mr. Benn

The House will get far more information under this Bill upon which to make a decision than was given in the Wiggins Teape Bill, which was passed before the House knew anything about the negotiations.

Mr. Willis

I am always very modest in my claims, and in my indictment of the Opposition. I am a magnanimous person. I do not like to whip the Opposition too much. I simply state the facts modestly; I do not exaggerate them. But the plain fact is that hon. Members opposite, when they were in government, time and again put forward schemes, which were passed by the House, which did not call for any of this information.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) raised a question with which I should deal. The Amendment proposes that …there shall be an accompanying memorandum stating all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment as to the merits or demerits… We shall get this in the same way as we got it when right hon. and hon. Members opposite were in office, except that instead of having a Bill we shall have a Motion to approve. That is the difference.

Mr. Lane

The right hon. Gentleman keeps harping on and past history. He is talking about Bills in the past. We are talking about schemes in the future. The point which I tried to make was that we have no opportunity to amend schemes, which is why we want full information to be given. Bills can be amended.

Mr. Willis

The scheme can be turned down if the Opposition do not like it. They are avid pursuers of Government waste. They should table a few Questions asking how much has been received on the loans made for Colvilles strip mill. The Opposition are always chasing up waste of Government money. Let them table Questions and find out how much they wasted in financial terms, and, not, I believe, in wider terms, and what return we have received on the money. The schemes will be subject to the usual rules and will be debatable in the House. I have no doubt that the necessary information will be given when they come before us.

I cannot see that there is anything wrong about what the Government propose. It is general practice not to reveal private business information. I do not even know what the Amendment means. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is obvious."] It states that: …there shall be an accompanying memorandum stating all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment…". Who decides what are "all the facts necessary"? What does that mean?

Sir G. Nabarro

I gave six headings for facts which were necessary, with the approbation of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends: the history of the concern; the products of the concern; the profit record of the concern; the assets of the concern and its depreciation policy; the prospects of the concern; and the export performance of the concern.

Mr. Willis

As a result of reading the Press of recent weeks, I have lost my faith in the hon. Gentleman as a businessman. I have completely lost any trust that I had in his business judgment. He talked about desiderata. He should know about desiderata. He has received a substantial one, I understand, as a result of his incompetence. Therefore, he is the last one to talk about the Government or other people.

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has given us his list. It might have been acclaimed by hon. Members opposite. No doubt my hon. Friends could give their list. I could give my list. We could all give lists of what we consider to be all the facts necessary for the formation of an informed judgment…".

Mr. Emery

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is exactly the wording which the Stock Exchange Council uses concerning the information which shall be available on take-over bids concerning private and public companies? It is therefore a known phrase. II is not just made up. It is an established phrase.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I am not greatly impressed by that either. I live among lawyers. I listen to their arguments in this Chamber, and in the Scottish Grand Committee. If two or three lawyers were to get together to decide what facts were necessary, it would take about a week to determine what this phrase means. It is ambiguous, and nobody knows what it means.

This is a piece of nonsense on the part of the Opposition. This is a piece of humbug. They are trying to kid the electorate that they are concerned about the spending of public money, while all the time they have their hands dug deeply into the public purse. They want to convince people that they are concerned about public expenditure, and do not want to see money wasted. Nobody wants to see public money wasted.

Is this good House of Commons practice? If it is not, hon. Gentlemen opposite have been guilty of exceedingly bad practice for many years. I should like to see them turn over a new leaf, but I doubt whether they will. I think that what my right hon. Friend is proposing is fair and reasonable. He will make a statement. He will give us this information to the extent that it can be given. This seems reasonable. If we as a House of Commons do not like it, we can defeat it. What is more reasonable than that? Hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking that the House of Commons should count for something. Here they have an opportunity of making it to do just that, because they can use their power and their influence to defeat the scheme if it is not a good one. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reject the Amendment.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) is essentially on a false point, just as his hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was bowled out halfway through his innings by a fast ball from my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). He ought to have been back in the pavilion long ago.

I have great respect for the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East, and I enjoy his speeches. I do not want to see him come to any harm, someone ought to take him aside and explain how bookmakers operate, because if he thinks that he will do better with Government bonds than with any other kind of investment, he would do better to take up horse racing.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, is saying that we object to information being made available in respect of private companies. This is not the point at issue. It is a question of raising money, and in this case it is a question of raising public money which ought to be controlled by Parliament, money that is the property of the constituents of all hon. Gentlemen opposite.

If a company has to raise money in the market, or from a bank, surely hon. Gentlemen opposite know that it has to make available a mass of information. If someone wants to get a new issue underwritten in the City, he has to prove his point. If someone goes to a bank to raise money for a new project in industry, he has to make information available in the greatest detail. We are saying that if the Government want the right to use public money for projects of this kind, they should be prepared to make available enough information at least for Parliament to judge whether it is a sensible investment.

I was originally provoked into intervening in this debate by the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small), which I did not take too happily, but the more I listened to the speeches of my hon. Friends, and to the spurious defence of the Government from hon. Gentlemen opposite, the more suspicious I became about this Clause.

As one of my hon. Friends said, this is a very short, modest Amendment. It is asking for a little basic information. Why is it that the Government are so coy about it all? What lies behind it? I was not a Member of the Standing Committee, but the more one listens to the debate, the more suspicious one becomes, and it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to explain why he will not accept it. Its non-acceptance is totally inexplicable.

The hon. Member for Scotstoun referred to the Ferranti and Bristol Siddeley cases. I should like to say something about them within the context of this short debate. Whatever the hon. Gentleman wishes to say, or would like to advance on these two cases, he will surely admit, as any hon. Gentleman opposite would, that part at least of the blame for any mistakes which there may have been lies at the gate of the Government's estimators, and these are not the only cases. We know that in dealing with industrial projects of this nature, immense mistakes have been made on the Government side.

Under this Clause we are to give carte blanche to officials and Ministers, who have been guilty of massive misjudgments and misunderstandings of what was at stake commercially in big contracts, to invest money willy-nilly all over industry. We do not believe that they have the competence or the experience to do it. We are convinced that if this proposal is allowed to go forward without a minimum of information being available, we shall lose our money.

Mr. Small

The basis of the Ferranti and Bristol Siddeley affairs was the assumption by the Government that there was equality of information laid before them, and that they were not taken to the races.

Mr. Hastings

Equality of information is a deep subject in itself. The fact is that over many years the relationship between industry and the Government has deteriorated to such a pass that it is a sort of permanent conflict between the two, whereas it ought to be something different. How has this arisen? It has arisen partly for commercial reasons, and partly because the officials concerned, for all their many undoubted qualities of integrity, and so on, have not proved competent to deal with contracts of this complexity and commercial nature.

Mr. Benn

Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further with that, will he reflect on what he is saying? In the Wilson Committee's Report, which we shall be debating later, Wilson reported that the firm had deliberately misled civil servants with false figures. If there was a failure to detect, this was due not to a lack of competence but to an excess of trust. If the hon. Gentleman pursues this, he will get himself into very deep water indeed.

Mr. Hastings

I do not wish to pursue it any further, but the right hon. Gentleman will surely not pretend to anyone that the Wilson Report will be universally admitted and accepted, or indeed that all the figures in it are necessarily accurate. If the right hon. Gentleman asks me to wait until the debate, I can say the same to him, because there is plenty that can be said on that report on both sides. It comes ill from the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister principally responsible for an industry which he is supposed to be encouraging, to leap to the attack behind the Wilson Report. I think that his attitude should be much more circumspect.

I am not making accusations of anything disgraceful or anything that is not understandable. I am saying that by experience and background officials in the Whitehall machine are not necessarily best qualified to make complicated commercial judgments as well as the technical judgments which are required to justify the kind of investment which the right hon. Gentleman wants to make under this clause with public money. The record is there to prove that there is a great deal of weight behind this argument.

If that point is taken, it seems to strengthen the argument for at least a little frankness, and I cannot see any justification for this eminently reasonable Amendment being squashed and sat upon at the outset of the debate. It would be easy to accept it. It would not involve a lot of work, but merely the answers to some simple basic questions on matters about which any banker or any underwriter would want to be satisfied before he made available a penny of the money for which he was responsible. Why are the Government by contrast prepared to be so profligate with public money?

Mr. Benn

When the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) reflects on his speech I believe that it will shock him. He raised the question of Bristol Siddeley, with which I must deal before coming to the Amendment. His argument was that because civil servants had been deceived in this case by being given figures that did not relate to the hours worked in the firm—this is what Wilson said, and he published the figures to prove it—the Government are not, for that reason, able to engage in a commercial relationship with a firm unless information is published.

If information is published and the same thing is done by a firm—in relation to the old Ministry of Aviation—then, from the point of view of the House of Commons, how much better off would we be? All relations between Government and industry depend on being able to believe the word of the people with whom one is dealing. It would be just as wrong for me to deduce from this episode, or to impart, a general attack on industry, as it is for the hon. Gentleman to make it a general attack on Government.

In any event, since the hon. Gentleman h is some experience of the aircraft industry, I was waiting for him to declare his interest. Since he did not make any reference to his deep knowledge of and interest in the industry, for him to have taken this case and use it against the Bill was a quite outrageous thing for him to have done.

Mr. Hastings

I have declared my interest in the aircraft industry—[HON. Members: "When?"]—a sufficient number of times in this House for hon. Members to be aware of it. However, if it is felt that I should have declared it again, I apologise, although I still believe that my interest is well known.

I was replying to some comments made by an hon. Gentleman who mentioned not simply the case of Bristol Siddeley but Ferranti as well. My case was that in both of them—and I believe that this is admitted in the Wilson Report—Government estimators were to some extent to blame. This seems a legitimate comment for an hon. Member to make considering what the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to do in the Clause.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman's argument is rather like blaming the police for every murder that takes place on the grounds of incompetence in not in some way anticipating what would happen.

Sir G. Nabarro


Mr. Benn

One cannot expect civil servants who have been working for long periods with a firm not to accept the word and the figures given by those people. However, this has nothing whatever to do with the Amendment and I regret that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire imparted it into the debate, because we shall be debating it—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman imparted into the discussion the whole argument of the relationship between Government Departments and industry. I am glad that he has declared his interest and, like all hon. Members, he will be aware of the help that Governments have given to the aircraft industry.

This debate can be argued at two levels. One is the level of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)—I was about to call him my hon. Friend"—which is the old knock-about level of nationalisation versus free enterprise. That is one way in which the Amendment and the Bill can be discussed. Unless one is putting an entirely new use on words, nationalisation involves a decision by Government to acquire a firm or industry by legislative action. The Bill confers no compulsory powers on the Government.

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, who is a colourful, vivid and active hon. Member, should not impart into this argument elements that do not exist in it. There is a substantial difference between consent and the absence of consent, and we have made it absolutely clear from the beginning, from the time when we brought the Bill forward, that there is no element of compulsion in it. If after having repeated this—and I wish that the hon. Gentleman had participated in earlier debates on the subject—he still says that where there is no element of compulsion there is nationalisation, then I suggest that he is misusing words that are commonly accepted to mean something different.

Sir G. Nabarro

Nationalisation to my mind means public ownership. It is the investment of public moneys in enterprises which were not formerly financed by public moneys, and this is, therefore, a nationalisation Measure. Most of my argument—and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be fair about this—was concerned with laying before the House comprehensive information about companies to be acquired.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Benn

I was coming to that, because there is a second level at which this can be discussed, and I hope that we will be able to discuss it at that level. It is the way in which Government and industry should operate together in this very difficult area in which we know that, without some Government finance, certain industries could not survive. I of course accept that where one has money passing between Government and industry there are possibilities of all sorts of things going wrong. This is the territory which we are trying to explore, and I said in Committee, and I repeat now, that nobody yet believes that we have got this matter right. The Bill is an attempt to explore, experimentally, an area which in the past has not been handled very well.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) said that he did not defend everything that had been done by Conservative Administrations. That was a fair comment on his part; and I said I hoped that we would do better than Beagle when we come to other projects. We are experimenting in this area and, as I said, it is a difficult area to debate without raising the temperature very sharply unless one is prepared to consider the difficulties, problems and possibilities involved.

Sir T. Brinton

Has not the right hon. Gentleman just made out a strong case for using extreme caution in the drafting of the Bill to ensure that the powers contained in it do not go too wide? After all, these powers could always be widened at a later stage, but I doubt if they would be circumscribed once given.

Mr. Benn

To answer the hon. Gentleman's question about powers being circumscribed, not one penny can be spent under the Bill without the approval of Parliament. If I bring forward schemes—and the House knows that I have a scheme which I am bringing forward—I must satisfy the House in debate—and it will no doubt be a critical debate—before I am authorised to spend one penny of the £100 million which is authorised in general terms as a ceiling under the Bill.

When I contrast this with, for example, the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, I see something totally different. Under that Measure successive Governments have made tens of millions of £s available in launching aid for aircraft without even the requirement to come to the House of Commons. On Monday I made a statement on the Rolls Royce RB211 engine, but there was no obligation on me to make that statement to the House. If I went back over the years I would be interested to see how many Ministers in Conservative Administrations said to the House, "We have committed £10 million or £20 million in connection with a particular project."

Sir G. Nabarro

A great many.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman should look at the record.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)


Mr. Benn

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. First, however, I wish to make it clear that this is not just a matter of being scrupulous. I am not accusing hon. Gentleman opposite of being other than scrupulous. I am saying that machinery was in existence—indeed, I am still using that machinery on the civil aviation side—which permitted Ministers of Aviation, with the consent of their colleagues—and, for this purpose, I am not saying that any particular decision was wrong—to make money available as launching aid for aircraft, for aeroengines and so on and that they did not come to the House about it.

Thus, my first point is that, in considering this question of information—and my sympathies lie with the House, as I am seeking to show—I hope that the House will at any rate give me credit for having brought forward a Bill which promises to give infinitely more information—more than has ever been made available—before Government money is committed in support of industry.

Sir A. V Harvey

I apologise for not being here to hear the earlier part of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the statement which he made on Monday. Some of us were mystified by it because he paid credit to Rolls Royce, to himself and to his Department. I suggest that he would have been a little more generous had he paid credit to those in the City for making the deal possible. I did not hear him refer to that.

Mr. Benn

I referred to the Air Holdings arrangement, in which the Government were not a participant. I was on Monday not making a point about a personal contribution but was drawing attention to the fact that these deals cannot take place without Government and industry in partnership. This point was politically omitted. Nobody minds about personal contributions and—since there are a number of hon. Members present with experience of the aircraft industry—nobody knows better than the industry that if it had not been for Government contributions in, for example, research and development contracts—in which connection £1,500 million has been put in since the war—Government purchases, launching aid and so on. the aircraft industry of this country would not have the record of achievement which it manifestly has. I am not criticising anybody. If the House faces the fact that under Governments of both parties large sums of money are to be put into industry, it is high time we put it on a basis which gave us a greater chance of reviewing expenditures as and when they take place.

Mr. David Price

Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that the payment of £70 million to Rolls Royce is dealt with under this Bill and not under the Civil Aviation Act powers? He is exaggerating what he will do under this Bill.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman knows this. I have dealt with this before in the House. The Industrial Expansion Bill does not replace the Civil Aviation Act. If it did it would have a different ceiling, for reasons which he will understand. In considering the problem of extending a greater measure of equality of treatment for other industries, I did better in bringing this Bill forward than was done when civil aviation was handled separately. The Industrial Expansion Bill, save for single projects, is designed to move in an area where there is no current legislation.

The Amendment as worded, and as subsequently amended to delete £¼ million, asks me to lay all the facts before the House in those particular cases. I want to show to the House that this is (a) unnecessary and (b) in other cases impossible.

May I take first the case where it is unnecessary. This debate has been con ducted in a most extraordinary way. Since the Bill was last before the House, the first project under the Industrial Expansion Bill has come forward, the computer merger. In the course of the speeches which were made, not one hon. Member opposite mentioned the computer merger. What has happened in the computer merger? There were negotiations for three years, and intense negotiation for a year. Three companies were involved with the Government. Discuscussions went on over a long period with the companies, as a result of which the draft agreement was reached between the three companies and the Government. When this project comes before the House, the House will have access to all information that is available to the shareholders, and will be able to decide whether to approve it.

The party opposite will forgive me for using strong language, but, throughout the entire debate, any one of them could have referred to the fact that this Amendment would have been met, and more than met, by the first project under the Bill. Nobody chose to refer to it.

First, where there is this type of arrangement, the House will have far more information than it ever had before. I am not being critical of arrangements made by the previous Government, because we are all trying to find a better way of doing it. When we looked into Wiggins Teape in Committee, we discovered that Wiggins Teape was an enabling Bill, too. It was an enabling Bill that enabled the Government to do one thing. It was like a bee with one sting. The House had no further information about Wiggins Teape, indeed far less information, than the House will have under the computer merger. I do not say this in criticism, and the hon. Member for Eastleigh knows this.

We have now hit upon a technique which I do not claim is perfect, because no doubt it can be improved. Before substantial sums of public money are committed, it will bring to the House sufficient details to enable it to decide whether to go ahead. It is open to the House to defeat the affirmative Order on the computer merger and to bring the whole operation to a halt. Parliamentary rights are fully preserved under the procedure of the Bill.

Sir T. Brinton

The right hon. Gentleman is taking great pride in a further example following the handling of the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner. Are the Government taking action, envisaging action or taking credit for action which is not yet authorised by law or by their programme?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman was not listening to me. My point is that the House has the power to stop this, subject to Parliamentary approval, as I said in my statement to the House. Unlike launching aid which may be announced in the House but is committed fully under an Act which gives no Parliamentary supervision, under this Bill the House will have to decide whether or not it wishes the merger to go ahead. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong if he says that I have compromised Parliamentary authority. Of course I have not. The matter is tentative until the House decides to dispose of it by passing the affirmative Order.

If I may deal with the first type of case where there are likely to be investments in industry involving perhaps a merger or involving a single company, the House will always be in as strong a position as the shareholders. The accounts of the companies will be published and will be available to the House. To that extent, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has missed the point altogether.

The second type of scheme, where it is impossible to provide this information, is the industry-wide scheme such as that of the Shipbuilding Industry Board. Throughout the whole of the debate, there was no reference to the shipbuilding industry, although it is very well known to the House that one of the objects of the Bill is to allow the Government, on a cooperative basis with other industries, to do the same sort of thing which it is now doing with a degree of success in relation to the shipbuilding industry. If there were criticism of the technique of the Industrial Expansion Bill, one would have expected hon. Gentlemen opposite to have found something to criticise in the one place where it has been tried, namely, in relation to shipbuilding, but not a single example was given by hon. Members opposite on the shipbuilding case.

Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding—I am sure not wilfully—the purpose of the Opposition, which is to make a very small Amendment asking that when every proposal is put forward the information required is available.

Mr. Benn

I am not misunderstanding the purpose of the Opposition at all. I am understanding it too clearly, which accounts for the embarrassment in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself.

What did the House decide to do in the case of the shipbuilding industry? It decided to put £5 million into grants available for shipbuilding—which under this Bill will we hope be increased to £20 million—and £30 million into loans.

In accordance with the provisions of the Bill, the House decided to put this in the hands of a Shipbuilding Industry Board, headed by a very senior industrialist. The purpose and advantage of this procedure was not only that the Minister would not have to be concerned with detailed negotiations, but that the Shipbuilding Industry Board would have the absolute necessity of freedom of negotiation to bring together the Upper Clyde Group, which took months of negotiation, to work with the other groups that we are hoping to negotiate, such as the Wear group.

I must say this to my hon. Friend who raised the question of industrialists in government. It is crying for the moon to hope that senior industrialists will come into Government to administer a scheme. What I think is possible, and what the Bill is intended to provide, is that where there is a consensus about the needs of industry, if the House is prepared to authorise a general scheme and a global sum, the job can be sub-contracted to industrialists. In order to move industrialists into relationship with Government they must be given a measure of freedom to negotiate, within the limits of an agreed total of money and an agreed policy for that industry.

6.0 p.m.

It is curious that when people talk about Government interfering with industry so little attention is given to the much more interesting movement which has occurred recently under which Government actually hands over certain of their responsibilities to industrialists. N.R.D.C. is a perfect example. Where money must be provided to stimulate technological advance, the way to do it is to get a distinguished industrialist, like Sir William Black, and a number of colleagues to dispense it in accordance with a clear and agreed policy laid down by Parliament. If that is done, the House cannot be asked to look at every investment that it makes. In the case of the shipbuilding industry operation, if I had had to bring every stage of every negotiation hack to the House, before the Upper Clyde Group came into being the whole thing would have folded.

What we are trying to do is to find a way by which this can be done that preserves and enhances Parliamentary authority, but at the same time allows a measure of flexibility. That is why the Amendment is not possible. It would not be possible to repeat the Shipbuilding Board experience, if everything over £250,000 had to come back specifically to the House of Commons; the House would find itself reorganising shipbuilding in its own Committees, and that would not be practicable. However, I assure the House that, just as with the computer merger, there will be the fullest availability of information of a kind which the House has never had in its history in authorising the payment of money to industry.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Surely in the case of shipbuilding there was sufficient information available to make an informed judgment on the merits or demerits. We had the Geddes Report. Information was available upon which a judgment could be formed. If it was not, on what basis was the scheme put forward at all?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman is now moving his ground, and I understand why. It is one thing to say that we are not to give any money to any firm unless all six requirements of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South are made available to the House. It is another thing to say that, after looking at the industry, clearly it needs an injection of capital to re-equip itself, and then give to the Board the power to implement this policy subject to the Minister's accountability to the House. If he says that every Minister bringing forward a scheme has to justify himself, I am wholly with him.

There has been an extraordinary sensitivity and confusion in the minds of many hon. Members opposite about money which is given and which takes the form of an equity holding. Almost all the speeches that we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite have been about the terrible fear that we might under any circumstances acquire an equity holding. When we debated the matter before, I made it clear that I would think it right to recommend an equity holding to the House if we were taking a risk on a major project and the public was entitled to share in the profitability flowing from it. In the computer case, I could not have recommended bringing forward an investment of this kind on terms other than those which gave us a very small minority holding. If hon. Gentlemen opposite think that our motive here is to buy bits of companies which will not succeed up and down the country, they have misunderstood the purpose of the Bill. However, it does not damage the Bill to think that, because in operation it will not be controversial.

Mr. Peyton

Not controversial?

Mr. Benn

The debates are controversial, but that is different from saying that the Bill is controversial. This country cannot conceivably keep abreast of advanced technology unless we find a way of providing Government support for certain advanced industries. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South speaks about industry in such terms as, "If only the Government kept away, everything would be all right." That is a total misunderstanding of the realities of the international competition facing the United States Government, for example, who pour money into the space and defence programmes and give American industry a great advantage in competing abroad with our own.

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Hastings


Sir T. Brinton


Mr. Benn

Hon. Gentlemen must sort it out for themselves.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must indicate to whom he is giving way.

Mr. Benn

Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is very difficult to decide. They are all so unattractive. I will give way to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton).

Sir T. Brinton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his usual good manners.

Mr. Emery

He is a Wykehamist.

Sir T. Brinton

We had precisely the same debate in Committee, where we made the point which we must make again. The right hon. Gentleman has instanced the American Government's handling of a similar problem. They have created a market for the products of science and technology and left it at that. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to do it the other way. He must not confuse the two.

Mr. Benn

If a country is rich, it can do that. It can create a market that it does not need to get a tiny benefit from the spin-off in the advanced technologies. The American Government have chosen a wasteful method, but they are in a position to do it. Their budget for the space programme this year is 7 billion dollars, which means that they are spending more on space than the entire research and development of British industry. That gives American firms a considerable advantage. But if anyone thinks that we should do it by creating a market of that size in the hope that it will happen here, he is quite wrong. It cannot be done.

Mr. Hastings


Mr. Benn

I will not give way again. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that we would not have an aircraft industry of the kind that we have today if it had not been for enormous support from the Government over the years which have enabled us to compete with an American industry which has received even more money.

Since this has been a Parliamentary debate, may I finish on this question of Parliamentary accountability. I repeat what I said earlier. There has never been, under the provisions of any other Act of Parliament, such detailed security for the House to know the facts of every individual scheme. The Bill authorises no expenditure by any Minister other than the special cases which are dealt with in self-contained Clauses. No investment scheme can be brought forward without the House having an opportunity to consider and reject it. In the case of the first scheme, the House will have more information than has ever been made available on any scheme. When one combines that with the extended use of Select Committees in the House, the Ombudsman, and so on, it is true to say that the balance of advantage is now with the individual Member of Parliament. Under this Government, in this and other ways, the administration has been very sharply titled towards Parliamentary accountability. The Bill is another step in this direction, and I hope that the House will reject the Amendment.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

The Minister says that the Bill is not controversial and that only the speeches have been controversial. I cannot quite understand how he comes to that conclusion after we voted against it on Second Reading, and I know that a number of hon. Friends will join with me in opposing it at many stages today.

It is a controversial Bill and on this Amendment we cannot accept the argument that he puts forward that there is sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny because the Government cannot spend any money unless there is adequate Parliamentary debate. There is no point in having Parliamentary debate if we do not have the adequate information which is necessary to make that debate meaningful. That is the purpose of the Amendment.

I have to confess to the right hon. Gentleman that, now that he has sat down, I am not clear whether he accepts or rejects the Amendment. I conclude from his general tone that it is his intention to reject it. We have had some 14 speeches on it, and I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few moments.

Perhaps I might refer to the speeches of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and say that it would have been helpful if they had heard the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). They seemed to be arguing, on the one hand, that it would be a good thing if Parliament had no information on this kind of subject in order, on the other hand, that Parliament might be able to reach an informed judgment about what we were discussing That is not the position. It is absolutely essential that if money of this order—taxpayers' money, not the Government's money—is to be spent, we should have adequate information available.

I turn to two particular points in the Amendment. The first is on the question of profit forecasts. It is perfectly true that some of these projects may not in fact make a profit. If so, it is all the more important that we should have the figures worked out of whether or not there is a case for investing Government money in such projects. We need an adequate estimate of what the profit forecasts are likely to be. This means that we must have an estimate of the demand side and of the cost side of the proposals.

What has come out time and again in Committee and in subsequent debates is that the kind of proposal which the Government will undertake under this Bill is one in which they do not wish to tell us what the demand for the project will be. While we accept the well-meaning declaration of the Minister that he would like the projects to produce things which people want to buy, it is not meaningful unless, at the same time, he assures the House that he will include adequate demand forecasts. It is significant, for example, that on the Concorde project he has not been prepared to make estimates of the ultimate demand.

Mr. Benn

Since there is only one project of this kind in prospect, the one announced of the computer merger where there has been a report which has been widely publicised, I ask whether the hon. Gentleman believes that in that case there will be any ground for criticism about the kind of information made available to the House, since it will be identical with that made available to the shareholders?

Mr. Higgins

We are not in a position to make a sound judgment on this. We do not know what the amounts will be through time. That has not been given to us. It is very relevant to the economic situation, although I would be out of order to discuss it, but the fact that the right hon. Gentleman may be able to do so in one case does not meet the general point of this Amendment and this is the important matter to discuss.

We lay particular emphasis on asset valuation. I am surprised to see that in the White Paper produced by the Government on the Beagle aircraft the best they can do by way of asset valuation is on fixed assets at cost less depreciation, as against a replacement cost basis which would have been more meaningful. It is essential in all the cases to have adequate information on which the House can make its decision. It is essential that we should do this because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) pointed out, this in effect is an extension of public ownership.

6.15 p.m.

It is not good enough to say that we will be given more information than we have had on previous occasions. If public ownership is being extended, it is right and proper that this House should ask for adequate information to determine whether a proposal is justified or not. That was the fundamental point which my hon. Friend endeavoured to bring out. We need to know the rate of return we shall get on this kind of project and how it will compare with the rates of return specified much more precisely in the other areas of public ownership where nationalised industries are involved. I hope that on all these grounds my hon. Friends will feel able in the Division Lobby to support the Amendment.

I do not think that the same criteria apply in the case of this kind of project as in the case where there is a straight Government grant. A straight Government grant is on a quite different footing. It would be absurd to say that the Government should investigate every case in which they give a grant in a development area, but when it is a case of actual Government participation we need to have the information.

As the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) pointed out, we do not want to prop up inefficient industries, but, unless this Amendment is accepted, we shall not know whether or not that is being done. We are concerned here with an area of public expenditure. This Bill will raise very considerable sums of money which will be invested on the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman said. This will be one of the many projects of the Government which lead to the kind of Budget we have had this year. It is an extension of public ownership. It means that taxes have to be raised or money has to be borrowed. We do not believe that this should be done without adequate examination. We do not believe adequate examination can be made unless this Amendment is accepted and the Government are far more forthcoming in providing information and ensuring Parliamentary debate than they

have been or as, by the tone of his reply, the right hon. Gentleman suggested they are likely to be. I hope my hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobby in voting in favour of this Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 210.

Division No. 104.] AYES [6.18 p.m.
Allson, Michael (Barkston Ash) Grant-Ferris, R. Oaborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Gresham Cooke, R. Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Astor, John Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Percival, Ian
Awdry, Daniel Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Peyton, John
Baker, K. W. (Acton) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Pink, R. Bonner
Balniel, Lord Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bell, Ronald Hawkins, Paul Pym, Francis
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Higgins, Terence L. Quennell, Miss J. M.
Bessell, Peter Hiley, Joseph Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Biggs-Davison, John Hill, J. E. B. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Black, Sir Cyril Holland, Philip Ridsdale, Julian
Blaker, Peter Hooson, Emlyn Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Boardman, Tom Hordern, Peter Russell, Sir Ronald
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hornby, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Brewis, John Howell, David (Guildford) Scott-Hopkins, James
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hunt, John Sharpies, Richard
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Hutchison, Michael Clark Sinclair, Sir George
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Smith, D. G. (W'wick & L'mington)
Bryan, Paul Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Smith, John
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Stainton, Keith
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Jopling, Michael Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Carlisle, Mark Kershaw, Anthony Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Channon, H. P. G. Kirk, Peter Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Chichester-Clark, R. Kitson, Timothy Temple, John M.
Clegg, Walter Knight, Mrs. Jill Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Cooke, Robert Lane, David Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Corfield, F. V. Langford-Holt, Sir John Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Costain, A. P. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Lubbock, Eric Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Crouch, David McAdden, Sir Stephen Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Crowder, F. P. MacArthur, Ian Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Dalkeith, Earl of Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Wall, Patrick
Dance, James McMaster, Stanley Walters, Dennis
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.) Maddan, Martin Ward, Dame Irene
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Maginnis, John E. Weatherill, Bernard
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Mawby, Ray Webster, David
Digby, Simon Wingfield Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wells, John (Maidstone)
Doughty, Charles Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C. Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Williams, W. D. (Dudley)
Emery, Peter Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Eyre, Reginald Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Farr, John Monro, Hector Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Fisher, Nigel Montgomery, Fergus Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Fortescue, Tim Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Worsley, Marcus
Foster, Sir John Murton, Oscar Wright, Esmond
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. Nabarro, Sir Gerald Wylie, N. R.
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Neave, Airey Younger, Hn. George
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Nicholls, Sir Harmar TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Goodhart, Philip Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Goodhew, Victor Onslow, Cranley Mr. Jasper More.
Gower, Raymond Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Grant, Anthony Osborn, John (Hallam)
Abse, Leo Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bishop, E. S.
Alldritt, Walter Barnett, Joel Blenkinsop, Arthur
Anderson, Donald Baxter, William Booth, Albert
Archer, Peter Bence, Cyril Boston, Terence
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
Boyden, James Heffer, Eric S. Ogden, Eric
Bradley, Tom Henig, Stanley O'Malley, Brian
Braine, Bernard Hooley, Frank Oram, Albert E.
Brooks, Edwin Horner, John Orme, Stanley
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Oswald, Thomas
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Buchan, Norman Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Palmer, Arthur
Buchanan, Richard (G' gow, Sp'burn) Hoy, James Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Huckfield, Leslie Park, Trevor
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Roy (Newport) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hunter, Adam Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Chapman, Donald Hynd, John Pentland, Norman
Coleman, Donald Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Concannon, J. D. Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, s.)
Conlan, Bernard Jeger, George (Goole) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, William (Rugby)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Cronin, John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Randall, Harry
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Rees, Merlyn
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Kelley, Richard Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rnondda, E.) Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Rose, Paul
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Delargy, Hugh Leadbitter, Ted Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Dell, Edmund Ledger, Ron Ryan, John
Dempsey, James Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Sheldon, Robert
Dewar, Donald Lee, John (Reading) Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Dickens, James Lestor, Miss Joan Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N. E.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Loughlin, Charles Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Eadle, Alex Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Slater, Joseph
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Small, William
Ellis, John McBride, Neil Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Ennals, David MacColl, James Stonehouse, John
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Vardley) Macdonald, A. H. Swingler, Stephen
Faulds, Andrew McGuire, Michael Symonds, J, B.
Fernyhough, E. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Thornton, Ernest
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Maclennan, Robert Tinn, James
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Tomney, Frank
Foley, Maurice MacPherson, Malcolm Tuck, Raphael
Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Urwin, T. W.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Varley, Eric G.
Forrester, John Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Fowler, Gerry Manuel, Archie Wallace, George
Freeson, Reginald Mapp, Charles Watkins, David (Consett)
Galpern, Sir Myer Marks, Kenneth Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Gardner, Tony Marquand, David Weitzman, David
Garrett, W. E. Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Wellbeloved, James
Ginsburg, David Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Gourlay, Harry Maxwell, Robert Whitaker, Ben
Gregory, Arnold Mayhew, Christopher Wilkine, W. A.
Grey, Charles (Durham Mendelson, J. J. Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Millan, Bruce Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Griffiths Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Miller, Dr. M. S. Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Hamilton, William (Fife, w.) Moonman, Eric Woof, Robert
Hamling, William Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Yates, Victor
Harper, Joseph Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Mr. John McCann and
Haseldine, Norman Morris, John (Aberavon) Mr. Harold Walker.
Hattersley, Roy Moyle, Roland
Hazell, Bert Newens, Stan
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