HC Deb 23 February 1953 vol 511 cc1846-9
Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, in page 15, line 27, at the end, to insert: Provided that the Treasury shall not be required to establish or maintain any Redemption Fund Account or Interest Account in relation to any such stock, as provided in the Seventh Schedule to the Iron and Steel Act, 1949. This is a small technical Amendment in order to make it quite clear that the Redemption Fund set up under the Seventh Schedule of the 1949 Act is not imported into the provisions of the Bill. In view of the fact that payments are made into various Exchequer Accounts the provision for a Fund is not necessary. As it may be a matter of some doubt whether, in the absence of this provision, it would not be imported into the present Bill, I move the Amendment to make assurance doubly sure.

Mr. Albu

This is not quite such a small Amendment as might appear from the Financial Secretary's remarks. We do not intend at this stage to oppose the Amendment or to deal at great length with this Clause, because to some extent the same considerations are involved in the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). The Iron and Steel Corporation have the duty of redeeming their stock. This stock is apparently to be turned into Treasury stock of the same identity and subject to the same powers, privileges, charges, restraints and liabilities as before. It is not to be subject to redemption except in so far as there is a general redemption of the National Debt. In other words, by this Clause and particularly by this Amendment the Government propose to lose iron and steel stock in general Government funds.

We are aware that in other parts of the Bill—and we shall move Amendments to strengthen them—there are provisions for accounting for what takes place when the companies are sold, but it would have been very much more easy to see what takes place if the proceeds of the sales of the companies were applied directly to the redemption of the iron and steel stock. This Amendment, of course, prevents that taking place.

9.15 p.m.

Some of our anxieties about the general intentions of the Government on all these Clauses are considerably strengthened by the Amendment. They arise out of the things that are said here and in the financial Press. The Financial Secretary must have seen a very extraordinary article in the "Financial Times" of last Wednesday, 18th February, which suggested that the revenue from the sale of these assets might be applied to reduction of taxation. I would be out of order if I attempted to develop that theme, but the argument was extraordinarily muddled. Examining the Clauses, I think that on the whole the Bill safeguards us against direct reduction of taxation in that way; nevertheless there are such extraordinary ideas about.

I think it is right that we should say at once to the Government that on the next Clause we intend to examine very closely indeed how these funds, which will arise from the sale of the companies, are to be used and what Parliamentary control there will be over them, and to make quite certain that the actual facts of the sale of the companies, and the loss or gain to the Government, shall be made quite clear. I do not intend to go any further on that point now, but we must not allow the Financial Secretary, who can be very charming sometimes, and sometimes slightly disingenuous in the way he puts these matters to the Committee, to pass on without a warning that we have not overlooked what is being done in this Amendment and in the Clause; and that we hope to have a much more detailed discussion on the way in which the Government intend to use the funds they will get from the sale of these companies.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 15, line 28, to leave out subsection (2).

I am not going to take up much time on this matter because I think the Financial Secretary will agree that the subsection which I move to leave out has no meaning whatever. It merely changes the name of the stock. The reasons for the change are completely obscure. The security remains completely identical. Ten lines are taken up by this subsection in order to say: "We will call this stock by a new name."

I do not know why the Government want to do it. Is the name of the Chancellor to be glorified by being attached to an issue of Government stock in the way in which the names of previous Chancellors of the Exchequer have from time to time been attached, beginning with Hicks Beach and going down to Daltons, which is the most recent one? Perhaps that is the reason the Government are doing this. Perhaps they do not want anybody to remember that iron and steel have been nationalised, but we will see to that. We will see that people remember, and that iron and steel are nationalised again.

Apart from all that, I hope that the Financial Secretary will agree that this subsection is one of the silly efforts of the Treasury and that it has no meaning whatever, no purpose, and no object, and might as well be dropped as left in.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman enjoyed himself. The purpose of the subsection is to substitute for "British Iron and Steel Three and a half per cent. Guaranteed Stock, 1979–1981," the words "Three and a half per cent. Treasury Stock, 1979–1981," to bring the stock into line with reality. The stock ceases to be an iron and steel stock and becomes an ordinary Treasury stock. Therefore, surely, it is a good thing that it should be named accurately. We believe that British Government stocks guaranteed by the Treasury should be described accurately, and as this subsection provides for that accuracy, it seems to me to be fully justified.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I have another explanation in mind which, although it differs from that of my hon. and learned Friend, may be accurate. It is the habit of a certain foreign country at the moment to wipe out history by expunging from the history books all those things which are disliked by the powers that be. I thought that may be the Government were doing the same thing here and, not liking the iron and steel nationalisation or the iron and steel stock, they thought it would be a nice thing to expunge it from history by eliminating the name altogether and giving it some other. Is that the explanation?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would like to forget his Act of 1949, but I am afraid we cannot help him in that respect.

Amendment negatived.

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