HC Deb 04 March 1920 vol 126 cc631-2
51. Viscount CURZON

asked the Prime Minister whether the arrangement whereby the Government have taken shares in the British Cellulose Company has been, or will be, submitted to Parliament for approval.


The answer is in the negative. The arrangement under which, as already explained, the Government have taken the shares in payment of the company's debt to the Ministry of Munitions, involves no fresh advance of public money.

Viscount CURZON

Have not the representatives of the people of this country the right to say whether they approve of the continuance of very necessary Wartime arrangements in peace time?


Certainly the House of Commons has the right to express its views on the subject. They will find a convenient opportunity of doing so. I suggest, on the salary of the Ministry of Munitions rather than on the salary of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say how it comes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able of his own volition to invest this money in a company like this without the consent of the House of Commons?


The money was invested in the company, and all I have had to do was to decide, on the advice of the Minister of Munitions, whether the step which we have now taken was the best measure that we could devise to protect the money already invested.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not in error in stating that the money was invested in the company? Was it not a mortgage secured upon the assets, and have we not now foregone our claim upon those assets and taken profit-sharing preference shares in exchange?


That is so. The money was advanced on a prior lieu charge which prevented any capital being raised by the company, and my right hon. Friend and I came to the conclusion that to exchange that mortgage for preferential shares was in the interests of the nation.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Dreyfus family, who were responsible for the foundation of this company, were on the Black List of the Admiralty during the War?


The hon. Member had better give notice of that question.


Docs the right hon. Gentleman not think that a question of principle is raised by this investment by the State in a private trading company, quite apart from the merits of this particular transaction, and that it is a matter which ought to have been submitted to the House of Commons?


All we had to do was to protect the interests of the taxpayers. For war purposes a large sum of the taxpayers' money had been lent to this company. What we had to consider was how we could best secure the money which had been lent.


Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when the shares went up from 6s. to something in the neighbourhood of £16, the Government was not able to get its money back?


That is quite irrelevant. It is a matter which was investigated by a Committee whose Report is available to the House.

Forward to