HC Deb 28 June 1976 vol 914 cc18-21
17. Mr. Ridley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that the investment activities of the National Enterprise Board are meeting the objectives provided in the Industry Act 1975.

Mr. Kaufman

The Act speaks not of objectives but of the board's purposes, functions, powers and duties, all of which bear on its investment activities, and all of which it is exercising to my satisfaction.

Mr. Ridley

Is it not, broadly speaking, true that all that this great board has so far done is to give £5 million to Lonrho, which after all was the unacceptable face of capitalism, to buy up Brentford Nylons?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman has maintained his unparalleled record for every word he delivers being totally inaccurate. The board has nothing to do with that matter. It has not donated—to use a word liked by the hon. Gentleman's party—any money to Lonrho in this situation. The board is using the money which the Government have allocated to it for excellent purposes of extending public enterprise into profitable manufacturing industry.

Mr. John Garrett

My hon. Friend is clearly aware that a major objective of the board was to extend public ownership into profitable manufacturing industry rather than to rescue the lame ducks. When is the expansion of public ownership into profitable manufacturing industry likely to take place?

Hon. Members

Not this week.

Mr. Kaufman

Gradually. It has already begun. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will allow me to digress before I answer his question with my customary amplitude, may I say that the Conservative Party must make up its mind whether the board is doing too much or not enough. We are receiving complaints of both kinds from the Conservatives.

As regards what my hon. Friend asked, the board has already taken shares in Brown Boveri Kent Ltd. and in International Computers, and other transactions are being proposed which are commercially confidential at present but which will be announced when that is possible. The Government have cause to be satisfied with the way in which the board is conducting itself.

Mr. Grylls

Is the Minister claiming that Brown Boverie Kent is a successful investment? It cost the Government £6 million when they acquired it and it has been transferred to the NEB at just over £1 million. Is that a successful investment? If not, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House which is the most successful and profitable investment so far made by the NEB?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a company in which private enterprise was totally unsuccessful and for which a rescue operation had to be conducted. The board has now expanded its holding in order to make that enterprise profitable, as it will. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Herfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), who is a little more vocal than usual for a Whip, talks about investing in success. When we say that the board will invest in profitable manufacturing industry, the Conservatives tell us that we are nationalising through the back door.

Mr. Heffer

Does my hon. Friend recall that the Bill setting up the board included a provision that regular statements—I think that they were to be annual—would be laid before the House on the work of the board, what it was doing, where it was investing and so on? When will such a statement be made available? In supporting the board, many of us are most keen to see exactly how far its activities are extended.

Mr. Kaufman

All commitments made in regard to the board by Ministers, whether by my hon. Friend when he had charge of these matters or by other Ministers, will be fulfilled. I shall examine my hon. Friend's point and respond to him further.

Mr. Tom King

Is the Minister aware that we admire the Government's recognition that the NEB's powers of management are limited in certain respects? Will he confirm that he will shortly be putting before the House a Bill for the denationalisation of Kearney Trecker and Marwin Ltd.?

Mr. Kaufman

There is a later Question on the Order Paper dealing with that matter, but the Opposition are so disorderly that they do not realise that. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will answer that Question. It is a pity the hon. Gentleman wasted his supplementary question in that ludicrous way.