HC Deb 23 February 1953 vol 511 cc1849-72
Mr, George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I beg to move, in page 16, line 20, to leave out "fifty," and to insert "forty."

The purpose of this Amendment is not to substitute "forty" for "fifty," but to seek information. It is quite clear from our debates on Clauses 18 and 19 that on Clause 20 we hope to have a proper discussion of the meaning of these financial Clauses. To begin with, we understand that a large part of the nationalised steel companies will remain in the hands of the Holding and Realisation Agency for a considerable time and, as the Financial Secretary has said, while those sections of the industry remain in the hands of the Agency, the Agency will have to do something to see that proper development goes on. That proper development will call for financial expenditure and, if that happens, it is proper that the Agency should have adequate finance at its disposal to look after the development charge.

We are not quite sure how this will be done, particularly as regards the accounting. Clause 21, which purports to deal with the accounting side of the business, is not clear as to the kind of information that will be given publicly and the manner in which it will be given publicly. We are also perplexed about the amount of £150 million mentioned in the Clause. It will be remembered that the first development plan of the iron and steel industry was to cost about £170 million which, I suppose, is about £300 million at present prices. We do not know how the Government hit upon the figure of £150 million, unless they took the cost of development plans and divided it into halves, because half of the industry will go into private hands and half remain in public hands, and, therefore, £150 million seemed a nice figure to put in the Bill. We should like to know what the Government have in mind in putting this figure forward, and we want the fullest information that we can get about the way in which the Agency will finance the developments of companies that remain in the hands of the Agency.

In Clause 18, which we have already passed, although we shall come back to it on Report stage in a big way, the Agency could make loans to companies, give financial guarantees and buy securities and assets of the steel companies, which does not look as if the Agency will be pursuing their one-way line—the line of disposing of the assets of publicly-owned iron and steel companies. Quite a lot of the industry will be left in the hands of the Agency, and, from our own point of view, we would prefer the raising of money by the Agency from the companies that remain in its hands from ordinary commercial earnings, but, if the Agency are to be the medium of the Treasury in raising a fund to a limit of £150 million, and the cash is to go through the Agency, we should like to know precisely how the accounting is to be done.

Will the accounts of all these transactions be presented to Parliament or will they be buried in general accounts? Will the accounting also include details of income obtained by the Agency from the sale of companies, from shares, and so on? Clause 21 is rather vague, and the new Amendments to Clause 19, in regard to not having the redemption business, make it all the more important that we should get a clear statement from the Financial Secretary as to the purpose, and particularly the accounting, that will be followed in carrying out the provisions of Clause 20.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Amendment would have the effect of reducing the amount available for development from £150 million to £140 million. I do not propose to go into the accounting side in any detail, because the question of the accounts is raised on the next Clause, and I do not think it would be appropriate, or indeed in order, to anticipate any discussion that may then take place.

The question which is raised is why we have thought it necessary to make provision for as high a figure as £150 million. I may be able to help the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) by drawing his attention to one or two facts. In the first place, when the companies are transferred under Clause 1, there will be substantial liabilities for the Agency to pay off, including the F.C.I. loans and loans from the publicly-owned companies to the Corporation, and the liabilities to be paid off will be of the order of £85 million. Therefore, that makes a substantial subtraction from the amount of £150 million which will be available for development.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Loans falling due on ordinary commercial agreements?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No, loans which it would be advisable to clear. I can say that the figure of £150 million is calculated with that liability in mind. That being so, a certain amount has to be allowed for perhaps the next couple of years for the development of such of the companies as remain in public ownership. Naturally, the amount required will depend on the speed with which disposal takes place.

9.30 p.m.

We have deliberately fixed the figure rather high so as to allow a margin in case disposal goes slower than it would be reasonable to anticipate. As I said on the previous Amendment, it is not desirable that the process of development in this industry should be handicapped because other matters move faster or slower than could reasonably be expected. It seems to us that when allowance is made for repayments it gives a reasonable cover, so far as it is possible to foresee the future. It is for that reason that after some thought we felt that the figure of £150 million with which to cover the necessary developments would be adequate. and for that reason also I must resist the hon. Member's proposal to reduce the amount by £10 million.

Mr. Albu

Do I understand the Financial Secretary to say that before the Agency attempt to sell some of these companies it is the intention of the Treasury to take over such commercial loans as may still be outstanding, that it is intended out of the figure which the Treasury may pay into the realisation account—the figure of £150 million—to pay off something like £85 million?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I said that was the liability.

Mr. Albu

This is a very complicated matter and I am trying to follow what the hon. Gentleman really meant by that. It means there is a liability because some of the companies had very substantial loans from the Finance Corporation for Industry and so on. Is it the intention of the Treasury to take over the liability for such loans and to pay them off? If so, I really cannot see the purpose of that, and I should not have thought it was desirable.

Mr. Summers

Has not the hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that the Corporation, whose life is clearly one of short duration, may be one of the institutions to which the money will have to be paid off by the Agency?

Mr. Albu

That is perfectly true, but I am not sure what the figure is. It is not a very large figure so far, but we have not, of course, seen the second year's accounts, so we do not know what it is. Perhaps the Financial Secretary knows the figure of loans made by the Corporation to the separate companies. One of the great advantages of the Iron and Steel Corporation was that it could make these loans at a very low rate of interest. We know that there are other sums amounting to £60 million or so outstanding to other bodies, but I do not quite see the point of the Treasury taking over this liability.

That leaves a figure of about £65 million. Is it intended to go on developing the industry in public hands on the basis of Treasury loans out of the Consolidated Fund? I should have thought it would have been better to do that on the basis of Government stock, and therefore I cannot see that such a large figure is needed. It seems a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of financing the industry and one over which there will be very little control, and I think we require a good deal more information than we have at the moment.

The whole thing is very confused, and I cannot, of course, deal with the rest of the Clause, which describes how the realisation account is to be operated. We are very uneasy about the whole thing, but I should particularly like further information about taking over the Corporation's loans. Would it not be better to develop the industry on a much more substantial and permanent basis?

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I should like to emphasise the importance of the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). We really ought to have more information about this matter. After all, £150 million is a substantial figure and this will be public money, loaned in one form or another, to go to industry for either development purposes or to pay off existing loans.

Conservative Members in the days when Labour were in office maintained that they were the watchdogs of public money and that they must not allow a penny to leave the Treasury without ample opportunity being provided to examine where it went and how it was going to be paid out. All of us ought to be insistent that in this case we should have more detailed information than we have had so far about the use which is expected to be made of this £150 million.

The Financial Secretary spoke about £85 million liabilities. These presumably are partly liabilities of the Corporation, which of course would have to be taken over by the Treasury because the Corporation are going out of existence. We should like to know how much of this £85 million is Corporation liability. There is a great deal of other money—for example money lent by F.C.I. to the industry. There was a substantial sum outstanding—I think about £30 million—in connection with Margam when I was in control of the Ministry. Is it proposed to pay that off? If that is so, what is the difference between the situation now, when the industry is presumably going back to private enterprise, and the situation in the days when the loan was negotiated, because the industry was under private enterprise then. The F.C.I. loan was negotiated before the days of nationalisation. If there is a further explanation for the balance of £85 million I think we are entitled to have it. We do not necessarily take objection to it, but we ought to know what is happening.

Is it in the mind of the Government, with regard to the balance of the £150 million, that all development schemes of companies remaining in the hands of the Agency should be paid for out of the sum of £65 million? If so, I do not think that sum is anything like enough. Ordinary development schemes will cost about £60 million a year for the next five years, a total of £65 million for that purpose is no use at all unless the Government contemplate—and I do not think anybody in their senses would contemplate—that they will sell all these companies in a month or two into private ownership.

There may be differences of opinion as to how long it will take to sell out, but is generally agreed that it will take many years, and in our view a substantial part of the industry will remain in the hands of the Agency for a long time, if not for ever—or at least until there is a change of Government. If that is so, £65 million is a wholly insufficient sum. Is it suggested, on the other hand, that private resources will be used? Will F.C.I. be asked for further loans? If that is so, why do the Government want £65 million at all'?

In that case, they would not want anything like that sum. Or is it suggested that these things will be financed partly from private sources and partly from this fund? All these things must have been in the minds of the Minister of Supply and the Treasury when this sum was put into the Bill. We know that there is a division between £85 million and £65 million. We cannot understand how either sum was arrived at, and we should like some pretty detailed idea—not necessarily down to the last half million—of how the figure was made up. We should also like a broad answer to the questions which I have put, and which we consider are important.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I will do my best to answer the questions. The right hon. Gentleman referred. first of all, to the liabilities of £85 million. Of those, £45 million consists of the F.C.I. loans which, I understand, in accordance with the Act of 1949, the F.C.I. could withdraw. Provision, therefore, has to be made to cover that. The sum of £20 million is in respect of loans from publicly owned companies to the Corporation which is now being extinguished, and a further £20 million may be required as a result of anticipated overdrawing by the Corporation. It is, therefore, necessary to make provision for the liability of £85 million, and that leaves the balance of £65 million available for development purposes.

It is intended to use two sources for development of such companies as remain in public ownership. One source will be part of the ploughed back profits made from the operations of the company. The other will be the £65 million. I agree it is a matter of calculation depending both on the speed of disposal and on the amount of development which it is possible to undertake. We have fixed the amount at a figure which seems, taking into account all the considerations I have mentioned, reasonable to cover the amount of development which will probably be undertaken in the next two years by companies remaining in public ownership. That is the best calculation we can make, bearing in mind two conflicting considerations.

Mr. Summers

I believe my hon. Friend used the phrase "profits of the sale." Did he not mean "proceeds"?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No, the profits of the operations of the campanies which have not been sold. Ex hypothesi there are no profits of sale yet; they are simply the profits of the operations. We have calculated this figure on two conflicting considerations. On the one hand, we want to provide all that looks like being reasonably necessary for development because we want development to go on. On the other hand, we think it is wrong to ask Parliament for more than looks reasonably like being needed. As a matter of constitutional propriety and Parliamentary decency, it is wrong to ask for wildly exaggerated sums because of an outside chance of their being wanted. It is because of those two conflicting considerations that we have arrived at this sum, and we commend it to the Committee as being reasonable.

Mr. Jack Jones

With regard to this amount of money which is earmarked for advancing for development purposes to the companies owned and retained by the Agency, could the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee on what basis that sum has been computed and from what sources that technical knowledge has been drawn? The Government are bound to have some advice and assistance in the computation of this amount, and I should like to know how it has been arrived at.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

We have available all the resources of the Government, including the resources of the Ministry of Supply, to which Department great knowledge of the industry is available. As I have said three times already—and I do not mind the hon. Member saying it a fourth—it is dependent on the precise amount that is sold, and the calculation has to take into account the fact that some companies will have been sold and some not. As with all these forecasts, it is necessarily based upon uncertain factors, but I think the calculation is a reasonable one in the circumstances and it is for that reason that I put it forward.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones

The Committee are now being told that instead of the amount of money to be provided having some relation to the number of companies and the technical development that will be decided upon, an amount of money—£x—has now been decided upon and that is the amount to be made available to an unknown number of people desiring to use it. We want to get this clear; this is a matter of vital importance. We are told that an amount of money—and the figure has been stated—will be available for the technical development of companies remaining in the possession of the Government, through the Agency; but we cannot be told what the number of companies will be.

It may be that 30 per cent. will require this money and will have to divide it among themselves, or that 60 per cent. of the present industry will require it. It will mean that those companies requiring 100 per cent. technical development will not get it and, because of their inefficiency, they will not be sold. The effect will be that because the amount of money is insufficient the companies left in the hands of the Agency will not be as efficient as they should be.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

I beg to move in page 17, line 6, at the end, to insert: Such account shall be prepared so as to show, so far as practicable, in relation to the transactions of the Iron and Steel Realisation Account, whether and to what extent assets or securities sold or disposed of by the Agency under the provisions of sections sixteen and seventeen of this Act are so sold or disposed of for a consideration which is greater or less in value than such an amount of the compensation, satisfied by the issue of British Iron and Steel Stock in respect of securities which, under the provisions of Part II of the Iron and Steel Act, 1949, are vested in the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, as is fairly attributable, all necessary adjustments and allowances being made, to such assets or securities sold or disposed of as aforesaid by the Agency. This is an Amendment to Clause 20 (8). The object of that subsection is to lay a duty upon the Treasury to state annually precisely what is happening about the assets in the nationalised steel industry of which it is having to dispose. This Amendment is really a test of the Government's straightforwardness. I do not think anybody on this side of the Committee would question for one minute the courtesy with which the right hon. Gentleman and his two hon. Friends have treated us throughout the debates on this Bill. They have done a great deal to minimise the discomfort of the rather more turbulent stretches of the river down which this Bill must pass on its somewhat hurried course to the sea of the Statute Book. But there cannot be much doubt in the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite about the suspicion which hon. Members on this side of the Committee have with regard to the whole question of denationalisation.

We think it is a surrender to sectional interests, and it would be proper to describe that surrender as abject if it were not for the extraordinarily gleeful expression with which the Financial Secretary embarked upon it. We think it is the antithesis of a national policy, giving to the Government's friends pecuniary advantages and opportunities to exploit the community, no doubt for a political quid pro quo in i the form of support for their party. It s a policy of directorships for the boys and plums for the spivs, with whatever rake-offs there may be for the party opposite.

I have not said this just for the pleasure of saying it in public. I may no longer be young but at any rate I am innocent enough to be hurt by having to think such things about the party opposite. But these things are only too likely to be proved true. If I have gone one bit too far; if I have been in the slightest degree unfair in what I have said about the party opposite in its approach to these problems, here is their opportunity to show how wrong I am. We shall all be extremely pleased if they do anything like that.

The object of the Amendment is to see that full particulars are published in this account of the disposal of these assets. In particular, we are anxious to see a clear statement in this account, published annually by the Treasury, showing whether there has been a profit or a loss on the transactions—that is to say, on each disposal of assets which may occur. By that, I mean whether there has been a sale for more or for less than the amount paid when the industry was taken over by the nation. I want that statement to be published for each asset or group of assets.

Already, under the subsection, the Treasury has to make an account annually of the disposal. All we are asking is that it shall show in the account, beyond any doubt, whether or not the sum obtained for an asset or group of assets, now that the assets are being sold back to the privateers, is more or less than the sum which the nation paid when it bought these assets. That is a very good way of being able to tell whether or not the price is reasonable, and that is why we want this information supplied.

If the Government are as straightforward as they would have us believe, and as we should like to believe them to be, surely this is the chance for which they have been waiting, because any honest-minded Government would at once leap at this opportunity to show quite openly and in public whether or not these transactions result in profits only for a section of the community or whether they result in a profit for the State. The Government may say that what we ask will be too difficult to achieve. We have already heard about some of the changes which have taken place—such changes, for instance, as those in the capital structure of some companies which were taken over when the industry was nationalised. The Government may say that, as a result of these changes, it is impossible to compare the price received for what is left of the changed article with that which was paid originally by the nation. They may say that some of the assets may not exist, that there may have been regrouping.

I submit that that is the sort of little sum which the backroom boys of the Treasury are paid to work out. There should be no difficulty whatever, if they set their minds to the task, in working out a comparable figure—a comparison between the figure received now and the figure paid in the past. For instance, if a group of assets was bought for £x under the 1949 reckoning, and a certain asset has been hived off or grouped with other assets and is no longer in the original group; and if the value of the asset hived off is one-seventh of £x; then the comparison would obviously be with the six-sevenths which remain. That would be a perfectly simple sum.

I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary in all earnestness that, having in mind the suspicion which he knows to exist on this side of the Committee, he should be very willing to try to meet us on this point. After all, we represent a half of the electorate; we are deeply suspicious; and we want those suspicions to be allayed. This is the Government's chance to do that. Will they accept the Amendment and make an arrangement whereby the Treasury will state in public whether or not the sum being paid for the assets distributed by the Agency is as great in each individual case as was the sum paid for those assets originally? I ask the Financial Secretary to give a favourable reply. I ask him to say that this will not be a hole-and-corner business but an honest-to-God affair with regard to which everybody shall be able to form his own judgment in good conscience.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

This will be neither a hole nor a corner affair, and, indeed, study of the Bill, I think, impresses one more with the plenitude and amplitude of the accounts that will be available to hon. Members than any indication of shortage in that respect. But the objections to the peculiar type of accounts which the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. E. Mallalieu) has with some ingenuity evolved for himself are several. In the first place they are tied for purposes of comparison with the compensation stock.

I do not want to go over the ground which we have traversed—I think, at least, twice—today, but I am bound to remind the hon. and learned Member that there are very good reasons for saying that changes that have taken place since nationalisation have thrown comparison with the compensation stock as a yardstick completely out of date, sometimes one way, sometimes the other. Therefore, his particular form of accounts being based on that inaccurate yardstick must inevitably in what they show be inaccurate.

It is not particularly clear from reading the Amendment whether the loss or the profit which is to be shown is to be shown separately for each security sold or for the whole body of securities disposed of during the accounting period of a year. It is not at all clear what obligation is so imposed. But in any event, even if it be in its simpler form, as taking a lump together for a year. to be set for the purposes of comparison against the amount of compensation paid in respect of those particular securities, that must, in the nature of things, be not particularly helpful, because it may well be that those that are sold in one year raise a better price than those sold in another. Indeed, as markets tend to fluctuate, it is extremely likely that they would.

Then again, it is the object that all the information which can be got together on this subject shall be available in the report and accounts of the Agency, which, when we come to the next Clause, we shall provide shall be laid before Parliament. In particular, information as to the proceeds received for the sale of securities and other assets will be included in those accounts.

I really cannot see what more the hon. and learned Member can want, and, indeed, if I may go back to it, the peculiar form of presentation of accounts which he has evolved, though, undoubtedly, it would involve a great deal of difficulty in getting them together, would really, for the reasons I have stated, give a most misleading impression, and would be far less helpful than the statement of the actual facts in the normal form of accounts which the Agency will lay, and for that reason alone it would seem to me quite wrong to present this rather peculiar form of balance sheet.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I do hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the matter. I hope he will consider this Amendment in the way he was kind enough to consider another, which was not accepted, that was proposed to Clause 16 on the membership of the Agency. He will remember that he said that, although he could not accept our Amendment on that occasion, he did take the point of view that it would be desirable to try to avoid and to prevent any collusion about disposal. It seems to me that this Amendment would be an aid in judging whether there had been any collusion in the disposal of the assets.

This is a matter which does not crop up only in this country. I have only to remind the hon. Gentleman of the remark made by the aspiring candidate to high office in another friendly country who delivered himself of the dictum that what was good for General Motors was good enough for the country. This is a matter to which we must give very serious consideration when these assets are disposed of, and I suggest that, even if the form of accounts—almost an aidememoire—suggested by my hon. and learned Friend is unacceptable, a more explanatory form of accounts giving the value of these assets would be highly desirable.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. C. R. Strauss

We are most dissatisfied with the reply of the Financial Secretary. He tells us that the information to be given to us by the Agency of the outcome of their activities will be sufficient to satisfy our reasonable curiosity. We do not know that: there is no reason why it should be. We do not know in what form the Agency will inform the House about the sales they have been managing to get of their assets or securities. It will all be subject to Treasury ruling, and we do not know what the Treasury ruling will be. We therefore say that we think it reasonable and proper that there should be such publication by the Agency of their sales activity as will enable us to make some comparison of their success and achievement. We want to know how they have been doing, if they have been doing well, and the sort of price they have been getting compared with the compensation prices originally paid for the various securities which were bought by the Corporation. Is that an unreasonable request?

I do not want to go over all the arguments put forward earlier in the day, but I am afraid I must touch on them. I repeat that we are exceedingly suspicious about not the desire but the ability of the Agency to sell the securities which it will hold at a price which can he considered by anybody as satisfactory from the public point of view. When the industry was bought by the Corporation it was paid what we thought was a fair price. We thought that the Stock Exchange valuation was a reasonable one. There was a loud cry of indignation by the Conservative Party, voiced particularly by the Front Bench spokesmen, that the price was wholly unreasonable and that the industry was being bought at well below the proper and true value.

We do not think that that was so. Surely, when the industry is being bought back by private owners, the profits of the industry having meanwhile risen substantially, it is reasonable for us to want to know whether the private owners, when buying back those companies which they had to sell to the Corporation, will pay, as we think they will, less for the companies than they received when they sold them to the Corporation. That, I should think, is a reasonable and proper matter for us to raise, and it is right for us to demand that the accounts of the Agency show whether this is so or not. We have a deep suspicion that in the very nature of the set-up here the public will not be able to get the money which it ought to get when it sells this public property.

As I said on an earlier Amendment, there will not be competitive buying. There will be one buyer for all the major assets, the big securities which are being sold. Some combination of interests—iron and steel industry interests, banking interests and insurance interests—will come along and put to the Agency a proposition, "We are willing to take over this particular show for this figure and to have this financial structure. We propose to issue certain shares to the public and to pay you so much."

I am sure—and I do not think anybody denied it when I put it to the Committee in the form of a question before—that when it comes to selling these important companies, the take over price of which may be £10 million, £20 million or £30 million, there will not be any competitive buying or tendering for that industry. There will be one buyer only. On the other side of the picture, there will be the Agency under the control of the Government, and there will be the strongest possible pressure on the Agency and on the Treasury to sell in order to get rid of the stuff. That is the intention of the Government. They were elected for that purpose, and they are going to try to carry it out—get rid of the stuff, and hand it over from public ownership to private ownership.

I am sorry to repeat myself but I must. The Government will be in an impossible and, indeed, in a ridiculous situation politically if, having passed this Iron and Steel Bill, they are forced to say, six months or a year later, "We are very sorry but we have not been able to sell more than one or two of the iron and steel companies. They are still in public ownership, and the Bill is just a bit of paper, because we cannot sell the companies except at prices which we are advised by the Treasury and the Agency are too low and unjustifiable in view of past history."

Then the pressure will come on the Treasury and on the Agency to sell these companies if they possibly can, and not let it be said that, in spite of the Bill, the property still remains in public hands. The companies who want to buy these assets know that perfectly well. They know that they have only to wait a bit. Most of them will not be eager to buy back these companies for a number of reasons.

One reason, no doubt, is that they do not want to hold these companies temporarily and then go through all the difficulties and trouble of having them bought up again by the State, when the next Labour Government is returned, in such a way that they will not be able to make any profit out of holding these companies meanwhile. That will be the natural reaction of a number of people. They know that the permanent solution of this problem will be one of national ownership, and many people will, for that reason, be unwilling and reluctant to buy these companies back.

There may be many other reasons. There is the fear in the industry today and in financial circles—I do not think it is justified; I think it is exaggerated—that the prospects for the world iron and steel industry are not so rosy as they were two or three years ago; and that the growing capacity of the industry, not in this country but in the world, is outgrowing world demands. They believe that as a result of lack of sufficient action in developing the under-developed parts of the world, there will not be sufficient world demand for the production of the iron and steel companies as there would have been if there had been effective action by international authorities to develop parts of Asia and other parts of the world which require developing, and that there is going to be over-production.

I do not hold that view myself, but it is a view widely held. My point is that for this and other reasons many people will be reluctant to bring these companies again under private ownership. On the other hand, the Government and the State will be most anxious to make substantial sales. For that reason, I think the probability is that the law of supply and demand will apply, and the pressure to sell will be greater in many cases than the demand to buy. The result will be, in our belief, that the companies will be sold back to private owners, if they are sold back at all, at disgracefully low prices, much lower than the prices which were paid to the old shareholders by the Corporation.

Mr. Summers

Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that 20 minutes ago, on an earlier Amendment, he was arguing that the Treasury would be so interested in the financial side that the Agency would then be put under the Board. That is exactly the reverse of what he is now saying.

Mr. Strauss

I do not think that it is the reverse. Let us be accurate when we are referring to previous statements. I was putting forward the same argument then. I was arguing that the Treasury, in their anxiety to sell almost at all costs because of the pressure put upon it by the Government, might sacrifice the efficiency of the industry and sell assets because they happened to get a good offer for them when it was obviously desirable that the assets should not be taken out of some integrated group but should remain under their control.

It was because of the possibility of pressure on the Agency to sell wherever they were able to do so at almost any price that I said that the Agency should be put under the control of the Board so that the Board could ensure that the assets owned and controlled by the Agency would not be broken up indiscriminately for financial purposes at the cost of sacrificing the efficiency of the industry. My argument on that occasion was completely consistent. That argument was consistent with the one I am putting forward today. [Laughter.] I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite do not see the point or do not want to see it. The point is, simply, that the Agency will be trying hard all the time to sell perhaps irrespective of whether they are sacrificing the interests of the efficiency and co-ordination of the industry, and their efforts to sell are likely to be greater than the desires of potential buyers to purchase.

The result will be that, if it is sold back at all, a great portion of the industry will be sold at a rotten price. The steel owners will get their industry back at a price which will be very beneficial to them but will be exceedingly disadvantageous to the public. That is our belief and fear, and the only way in which we can find out whether our belief and fear is correct or not—I cannot prophesy for certain—is by the Agency publishing figures which will either prove or disprove our fears, and that is what we are asking at the moment.

We ask that the Agency shall produce figures which will enable us to compare the selling price they are able to obtain for the securities which they hold with the price originally paid by the Corporation to the companies for similar securities. We know that exact comparison is not possible in all cases, that there have been changes and that a number of companies may have to be grouped together, but we also know that the ingenuity of the Treasury or a group of chartered accountants will make possible the preparation of comparable accounts.

The fact that the Government are unwilling to accede to our request that such figures should be published to enable a comparison to be made convinces us that they know that what we say is probably correct. If the Government had nothing to fear and were convinced that our fear was incorrect, they would allow the figures to be published in the form that we require. We do not ask for detail, but there is information which Parliament and the country ought to hear. There has never before been anything like this sale of £240 million worth of public assets to private persons; the conditions and amounts are without precedent.

The House ought to have the fullest report and it should be in a form to enable us to make comparisons to prove or disprove our fear. If the Government are unwilling to produce figures in such a form, we can only come to the conclusion that they know our fear is correct.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The right hon. Gentleman has deployed a considerable part of his argument very fully and I am sure he has enjoyed himself very much in the process. The only point concerned here is the point of accounting. The particular proposal contained in the Amendment is, for the reasons I gave, quite unacceptable. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, during his speech of some length, did not attempt to say it was. We are as anxious as he is that if this can be brought out it will be brought out.

I said a few moments ago that the amount received for the sale will, in any event, appear in the accounts of the Agency which are dealt with under the following Clause. There is no intention whatever to conceal any relevant fact, and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that accounts of this sort are generally extremely full and detailed. We have no intention whatever of concealing any relevant facts particularly because I think that those facts, when deployed, as well as informing the public, will also show how wrong the right hon. Gentleman has been in a number of prophecies in which he has indulged tonight.

Mr. Mitchison

I shall not keep the Committee for more than a minute, but I was fascinated by the mental processes of the Financial Secretary. He swallows camel after camel and then he strains at a little gnat like this. He arrived at £150 million by a process of calculation which I can only describe as rather inspired and detailed, and now apparently he end his Department are so old-fashioned that they find it impossible to prepare accounts which will compare the previous prices of these companies or other assets with the necessary adjustments and alterations in the intervening years. I simply cannot see any difficulty—[Interruption.] I think the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) has something valuable to say.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

The hon. and learned Member said he would take one minute, and I was informing him that the minute is now up.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Member is a trifle literally-minded. He seems to consider that minutes have a certain relativity.

All I want to say is that the Financial Secretary has given his reasons and most hon. Members of the Committee themselves see good and sufficient reasons for something of this sort being done. Surely the hon. Gentleman or his Department are underrating themselves if they say that they cannot do anything of the sort

because it is too difficult. I suggest to him that some of the fantastic performances his Department will have to put up in connection with the Excess Profits Levy and matters of that sort are tar more difficult than anything asked of him or them in connection with this matter.

All that the hon. Gentleman has to do is compare, over a comparatively short period of years, the capital account of one year and the capital account of the next year, which is a matter of course year by year for any company. He has got to make a proper allowance in each year for increased liabilities, assets and the like. He has, in fact, to make the necessary adjustments and alterations, and at the end of it he will be able to present his accounts in a form which will give the ordinary member of the public the answer to the question that he is asking, namely. are the Government selling public property at a loss or are they not?

The Financial Secretary ought not to take refuge behind the usual excuse of administrative or, in this case accounting impossibility in order to defend himself from answering that question. It is a question that ought to be answered in such a way that it will provide the best answer to the ordinary man about the sale of public property.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 229: Noes. 250.

Division No. 105.] AYES [10.20 p.m.
Adams, Richard Castle, Mrs. B. A Finch, H. J.
Albu, A. H. Champion, A. J. Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Chapman, W. D. Follick, M.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Chetwynd, G. R. Foot, M. M.
Awbery, S. S. Collick, P. H. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Baird, J. Cove, W. G. Freeman, John (Watford)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Gibson, C. W.
Bartley, P. Crosland, C. A. R. Glanville, James
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Crossman, R. H. S Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.
Bence, C. R. Cullen, Mrs. A. Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)
Benn. Hon. Wedgwood Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.
Benson, G. Darling, George (Hillsborough) Griffiths, David (Bother Valley)
Blackburn, F. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)
Blenkinsop, A. Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Hale, Leslie
Blyton, W. R. de Freitas, Geoffrey Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Boardman, H. Deer, G. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Dodds, N. N. Hamilton, W. W.
Bowden, H. W. Donnelly, D. L. Hannan, W.
Bowles, F. G. Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Hargreaves, A.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)
Brockway, A. F. Edelman, M. Hayman, F. H.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Edwards, John (Brighouse) Hewitson, Capt. M.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Holman, P.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Houghton, Douglas
Burton, Miss F. E. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Callaghan, L. J. Fernyhough, E. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Fienburgh, W. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Nally, W Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Stokes, Rt. Han. R. R.
Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Oldfield, W. H. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Janner, B. Oliver, G. H. Stross, Dr. Barnett
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Orbach, M. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E
Jager, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.) Oswald, T. Swingler, S. T.
Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Padley, W. E. Sylvester, G. O.
Johnson, James (Rugby) Paget, R. T. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Palmer, A. M. F Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Pannell, Charles Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Pargiter, G. A. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Parker, J Thorneycroft Harry (Clayton)
Keenan, W. Paton, J. Thornton, E.
Kenyon, C. Pearson, A. Thurtle, Ernest
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Peart, T. F. Tomney, F.
King, Dr. H. M. Plummer, Sir Leslie Turner-Samuels, M.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Porter, G. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Price, Joseph T. (Westhougton) Viant, S. P.
Lever, Leslie (Ardwiok) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Wallace, H. W.
Lindgren, G. S. Proctor, W. T. Watkins, T. E.
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Pursey, Cmdr. H. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
MacGoll, J. E. Rankin, John Weitzman, D
McGhee, H. G. Reeves, J. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
McGovern, J. Reid, Thomas (Swindon) Wells, William (Walsall)
McInnes, J. Reid, William (Camlachie) West, D. G.
McLeavy, F. Rhodes, H. Wheeldon, W. E.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Richards, R. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
McNeil, Rt. Hon. H. Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wigg, George
Mainwaring, W. H. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Wilkins, W. A.
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Willey, F. T.
Mann, Mrs. Jean Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Williams, David (Neath)
Manuel, A. C. Ross, William Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Mayhew, C. P. Shackleton, E. A. A. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Messer, F. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Mikardo, Ian Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Mitchison, G. R. Short, E. W. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huron)
Monslow, W. Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Moody, A. S. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Morgan, Dr. H. B. W Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Morley, R. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Wyatt, W. L
Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.) Yates, V. F.
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H (Lewisham, S.) Snow, J. W. Younger, Rt. Hon. K
Mort, D. L. Sorensen, R. W.
Moyle, A. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mulley, F. W Sparks, J. A. Mr. Popplewell and
Murray, J. D. Steele, T. Mr. Arthur Allen.
Aitken, W. T. Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Doughty, C. J. A.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Brooman-White, R. C. Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm
Alport, C. J. M. Browne, Jack (Govan) Drayson, G. B.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Drewe, C.
Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton) Bullard, D. G. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Bullock, Capt. M. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.
Arbuthnot, John Burden, F. F. A. Duthie, W. S.
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Butcher, Sir Herbert Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Campbell, Sir David Fell, A.
Astor, Hon. J. J. Carr, Robert Finlay, Graeme
Baldock, Lt.-Comdr. J. M. Cary, Sir Robert Fisher, Nigel
Baldwin, A. E. Channon, H. Fletcher-Cooke, C.
Banks, Col. C. Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S. Fort, R.
Barlow, Sir John Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Foster, John
Baxter, A. B. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell
Beach, Maj. Hicks Cole, Norman Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Colegate, W. A. Galbraith T. G. D. (Hillhead)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Gammans, L. D.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Godber, J. B.
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Gough, C. F. H.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Cranborne, Viscount Gower, H. R.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Croakshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Graham, Sir Fergus
Bishop, F. P. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Gridley, Sir Arnold
Boothby, R. J. G. Crouch, R. F. Grimond, J.
Bowen, E. R. Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)
Boyle, Sir Edward Deedes, W. F. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Braine, B. R. Dodds-Parker, A. D. Harden, J. R. E.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA Hare, Hon. J. H.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.) Donner, P. W. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)
Harrison, Col. J H. (Eye)
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Harvie-Watt, Sir George Maclean, Fitzroy Roper, Sir Harold
Hay, John Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Heald, Sir Lionel McLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Russell, R. S.
Heath, Edward Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Higgs, J. M. C. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Maitland, Patrick (Lanark) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E. Scott, R. Donald
Hint, Geoffrey Markham, Major S. F. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Holland-Martin, C. J. Marples, A. E. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Hollis, M. C. Maude, Angus Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Holt, A. F. Maudling, R. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C Soames, Capt. C.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Medlicott, Brig. F. Spearman, A. C. M.
Horobin, I. M. Mellor, Sir John Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Molson, A. H. E. Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Stevens, G. P.
Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Nabarro, G. D. N. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J. Nicholls, Harmar Stoddart-Scott, Col M.
Hurd, A. R. Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Storey, S.
Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.) Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.) Nield, Basil (Chester) Summers, G. S.
Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Nugent, G. R. H. Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)
Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Nutting, Anthony Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Oakshott, H. D. Teeling, W.
Jennings, R. Odey, G. W. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Johnson, Erio (Blackley) O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Jones, A. (Hall Green) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Kaberry, D. Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare) Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Keeling, Sir Edward Osborne, C. Tilney, John
Kerr, H. W. Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Turner, H. F. L.
Lambert, Hon. G. Perkins, W. R. D. Turton, R. H.
Lambton, Viscount Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Langford-Holt, J. A. Peyton, J. W. W. Wade, D. W.
Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St, Marylebone)
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Pitman, I. J. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Linstead, H. N. Powell, J. Enoch Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Llewellyn, D. T. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Watkinson, H. A.
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Profumo, J. D. Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Raikes, Sir Victor Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Longden, Gilbert Rayner, Brig. R. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Low, A. R.W. Redmayne, M. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Remnant, Hon. P. Wills, G.
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Renton, D. L. M. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O. Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Wood, Hon. R.
McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Robertson, Sir David
Macdonald, Sir Peter Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McKibbin, A. J. Robson Brown, W. Mr. Studholme and Mr. Vosper.

Question put, and agreed to.

It being after Half-past Ten o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN, pursuant to Order, left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.

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