HC Deb 17 July 1939 vol 350 cc149-53

Considered in Committee.

[Sir Dennis Herbert in the Chair.]

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2. — (Returns as to guarantees.)

9.18 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

I beg to move, in page3, line 15, to leave out from "given" to the end of line 18.

The object of the Amendment is to omit from Clause 2 the words which re- quire the Board of Trade, when furnishing the six-monthly report covering the guarantees which have been issued, to include therein details of the classes of goods for which guarantees have been given. The Clause as it stands on the Paper reproduces Section 5 of the Act passed in February of this year, and, as I explained on Friday, when that Act was passed the total sum that we had in mind was £10,000,000 for very limited objects. Since then it has been decided to increase the figure to £60,000,000, and as the Committee is aware, the countries in relation to which the guarantees are to be given have been widely extended. Each of these six-monthly returns will include, not the total figures of the credits which we have in mind in respect of any particular country, but the amounts of the actual guarantees that have been issued by the Board of Trade in the course of the previous six months. Therefore, the figure might well be quite small. It has been always our desire, if possible, to prevent the details of any individual transaction from being disclosed, and I think the Committee will realise that if, for example, the total guarantees given to any particular country in the six-monthly period were in the order of £100,000, and that £100,000 had to be divided up among armaments, consumption goods, machinery, and so on, some of the items would be so small that it would be possible to trace the individual transaction. For reasons which I think the Committee will apprehend, but which I need not more closely particularise, it might well, under present circumstances, be undesirable that the actual amount of the guarantee in respect of any individual item should be known for a particular country. Therefore, we hope the Committee will agree to the deletion of these words. We propose, if they are deleted, to publish in any case the total for each individual country of the guarantees given during the previous six months. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) asked me during the Debate on Friday whether I could tell him when we proposed to issue the first return in respect of the transactions falling under Section 4 of the existing Act. I have made inquiries, and I understand that such a return will fall to be issued at about the end of August.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

When I first had information that this Amendment was going to be moved, I confess that I felt that the House of Commons was being asked to forgo some of its rights, but on looking over the matter I am bound to say that the information proposed to be withheld from us does not very much affect the position of the House of Commons. We are still to have, half-yearly, a return showing, as respects each country in relation to which guarantees are given, the aggregate amount of the guarantees so given. All that we are not to have is the details showing to what class of goods the guarantees have been made, and in those circumstances, if the right hon. Gentleman feels that it is important that this should not become public property, I do not feel that we are sacrificing a very great deal in meeting the wishes which he has expressed in the matter for the purpose of not disclosing to the outside world what it seems inappropriate to disclose. I can hardly imagine that the Public Accounts Committee will want this particular information, but I presume that if it were desired by the Committee, it would be supplied to them.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Most certainly. If the Public Accounts Committee asked for it, they would be given it in full.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

Then, so far as I am concerned, I do not feel that I shall oppose this Amendment.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

I raised on Friday the particular issue of China, with which I am mostly concerned. I was anxious to see what help the Government are giving to China, and I have reason to believe it is not as much as China expected, or as this House expected. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is to give us the information which I have asked for in this House, and which I have been refused because it was not in accordance with the traditions of his Department. I assume that the first account to be published in August will show what sterling amounts in the aggregate have been granted to China. That will cover my point. There was another point, which my right hon. Friend has partly covered by requesting the Government to give information, if requested, to the Public Accounts Committee. It is highly desir- able that the House should know what is happening to these large sums, and although we do not want to elicit information detrimental to the public interest we do want to protect the interests of the taxpayer. But with the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman has given I am satisfied.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I do not want the hon. Member to think when he sees the information, that I have in any way deceived him. He will only see in each return the amount of the guarantees that have been issued. If I may take as an example the case of Rumania, she will get a total credit of about £5,500,000. I do not know how the orders are to be placed, but clearly the whole amount will not appear in the first six months. I do not want him to think that because a sum of £x appears in the return in the case of China it necessarily means that this is the total of the guarantees which are to be given in respect of exports to China.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4. — (Financial provisions)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I think the right hon. Gentleman should give us an explanation of this long and important Clause.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

As the Committee will remember, I explained during the Second Reading that up to now the procedure has been for foreign Governments to issue securities which were then guaranteed by the Export Credits Department and immediately placed on the market for sale, and that we were afraid that when securities for the much greater sum now in contemplation came to be endorsed by the Department there might arise difficulties in securing a good price for them, having regard to the particular conditions of the day. Therefore we proposed a new method, by which the Board of Trade should be enabled to purchase these securities and either hold them for maturity or release them for sale as and when they were advised that the market was good. Clause IV provides the machinery for that. Sub-section (I) empowers the Treasury to issue from the Consolidated Fund sums required for the purchase of any security guaranteed by the Board, and provides that securities issued to raise money under this Subsection shall be deemed to have been created and issued under Sub-section (I) of Section I of the War Loan Act, 1919. Sub-section (2) requires that a fund shall be set up, to be called the Acquisition of Guaranteed Securities Fund. Subsection (3) regulates the procedure to be followed by the Board of Trade in regard to payments into the fund. Sub-section (4) provides for the payments that have to be made out of the fund by the Board, and for any excess of the proceeds of sale over the cost of acquisition, and any interest in excess of interest due to the Treasury, to be paid into the Exchequer. Sub-section (6) requires the Board to prepare an account showing the sums received into and paid out of the fund in each financial year, and such account will be: certified and laid before Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Clauses 5 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.