§ Mr. Cook
Does not the Minister share the views of his leader, that Governments should not interfere in industry? If so, can he explain why he has interfered with a stable arrangement that provides the basis for a remarkable expansion of that company, which has increased its factory space in Scotland by 50 per cent. in six years? Is he prepared to contemplate this company being taken over by GEC, with which it is in all too successful competition?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman cannot at one and the same time advocate interference and non-interference. The NEB has said that it intends to sell its share in Ferranti. It is required by the Government's draft guidelines to do so, having regard to the interests of the taxpayer and the company.
§ Mr. Nelson
I welcome my hon. Friend's reaffirmation of the commitment of the NEB and the Government to dispose of industrial assets. However, will he accept that there is concern at the growing number of disposals that are not offered for subscription by individual members of the public, thereby not encouraging the widest share ownership? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance 22 that, even though Ferranti is being disposed of to one company, he will pay due regard to the need to encourage the widest possible share ownership of public assets, and not encourage private deals between these holdings and one or two select merchant banks or large industrial companies?
§ Mr. Butler
The way in which the 50 per cent. shareholding in Ferranti is disposed of is still a matter for the NEB. I am not aware of any bids yet forthcoming. We have always said that there is merit in wider share ownership, including by the employees of companies, but we have to reconcile that with the need to obtain the best return for the taxpayer.