§ 4.9 pm
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the use of substantial amounts of taxpayers' funds to facilitate the impending sale of shares in Britoil, that is the oil production side of BNOC, and all the oil interests of the British Gas Corporation, without prior consultation or investigation by this House or its Committees.This is a specific matter as we are dealing not with the whole question of privatisation but with the particular matter of the sale of shares in Britoil and subsequent similar sales in subsidiaries of the British Gas Corporation. It is an important matter because, as was said repeatedly at the time of the introduction of the Bill which facilitated these sales, the sale will be a major issue on the Stock Exchange and the largest privatisation measure of this Government. It is important because it was felt—subsequent statements emphasised this—that the sum involved would make a major beneficial impact on the finances of the public sector.
Valuations of Britoil at the time were £2 billion and thus the value of the shares to be sold was more than £1 billion. Recent press leaks and comments make it clear that the Government now appear willing to proceed with the sale for a great deal less than was envisaged and may even be paying over to Britoil sums of money to facilitate the sale, sums which are matter for consideration by the House.
The financial propriety of proceeding with the sale is raised by these revelations and Parliament, which has a historic function as the arbiter of the financial propriety of any Government's actions, is not to have an opportunity to scrutinise these vital public financial transactions before the sale. Debate on the order which was laid before the House this summer on the transfer of shares to the Secretary of State does not enable us to discuss the subsequent share issue. As was repeatedly pointed out when the Bill was being debated, there is no mechanism for either the House or its Committees to debate the substance or detail of the issue.
The matter is urgent not least because without immediate discussion the sale will be effected on terms that have not had Parliament's scrutiny. As with Amersham, a subsequent appeal for a debate, which I made at the time, or a subsequent investigation by the Public Accounts Committee will be too late to affect this vital matter.
Revelations on the BBC last evening by the chairman of Britoil, who is not answerable to this House, about some aspects of the sale, only add to the urgency.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the use of substantial amounts of taxpayers' funds to facilitate the impending sale of shares in Britoil, that is the oil production side of BNOC, and all the oil interests of the British Gas Corporation, without prior consultation or investigation by this House or its Committees.I listened with care to the right hon. Gentleman, as did the whole House, because he has raised an important matter. 33 He knows that, under Standing Order No. 9, I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the order—there are several factors—but to give no reason for my decision.
I listened with anxious care to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.