HC Deb 01 March 1955 vol 537 cc1867-8
18. Mr. Grimond

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what use the Government have made of their powers as shareholders in the British Petroleum Company and its predecessors over the last 40 years; and how often they have voted as shareholders.

Mr. R. A. Batter

Under the Articles of Association the Treasury appoints two directors, who watch over the interests of Her Majesty's Government. But it has not been our practice to interfere with the commercial management of the company. I regret that the information requested in the second part of the Question is not available.

Mr. Grimond

If, as is apparent, the Government have taken no part whatever in the management of the company, and have not exercised their rights as shareholders except to appoint two directors, do they consider that this is a satisfactory position? If the Government are retaining their shares in the company, should they not take some share in its direction and management? If not, should they not get rid of their shares?

Mr. Butler

The Government have no desire to get rid of their share in the company, which has been extremely profitable. Furthermore, this practice has operated since 26th March, 1929, when a copy of the original letter describing the terms and conditions of the operation of the Government directors was circulated in the Official Report of that date, to which, no doubt, the hon. Member will refer.

Mr. Stokes

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer not consider it absurd that directors on the board of this company on behalf of the Government Should have restrictions attached to them? Does he not think that a very different Situation might have arisen in the past—I agree that it is circumstantial—if there had been competent directors representing the Government, and if they had been free to act quite independently and unprejudiced by the City, and by the oil interests in particular?

Mr. Butler

All sorts of very nice things might have happened if the world had been a better place.

Air Commodore Harvey

Would it not have been a good thing if the Government of the day had done more about this at the time of Abadan?