HC Deb 23 July 1956 vol 557 cc10-2
15. Mr. Holt

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, in view of Lord Citrine's support in his official capacity for certain restrictive trade practices, and his inability thereby to safeguard the interests of the Central Electricity Authority and the users of electricity, if he will terminate his appointment as chairman of the Central Electricity Authority.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

I assume that the hon. Member refers to the speech which Lord Citrine made recently at a study conference, all the speakers at which spoke as private individuals rather than in their official capacity, and were enjoined by the chair to be provocative, and even heretical. I am satisfied that Lord Citrine's response to this injunction will in no way bear the interpretation that he is unfitted to safeguard the interests of the Central Electricity Authority.

Mr. Holt

Has the Minister inquired whether the views that Lord Citrine expressed are the official views and policy of the Authority of which he is the chairman, because that was certainly the indication given to those who heard the speech and reported it? If that is so, does the Minister not feel any alarm that a nationalised industry spending huge sums of money should not be at all concerned about level tendering?

Mr. Jones

I think the best way of settling this matter is to see exactly what Lord Citrine said, and if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me I will give two quotations from his speech. The first is this: It is very interesting to me, when we ask for tenders, to find that on orders involving, perhaps, £600,000 or £700,000, the estimating is so accurate on the part of each firm that we get a tender even to the shillings and pence which is identical. He added, with an obvious twinkle in his eyes: I have a very high regard for the mathematicians who can bring about that result. He went on: I do not want it to be assumed I regard this as necessarily wrong. That is no more nor less than what the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill says. Lord Citrine continued: The real question is, are the prices they fix fair prices, and that does involve, it seems to me, some investigation of their costs. He went on to explain that that could be consonant with the privacy of firms, and he ended by saying: That means employing an instrument … whereby assurance can be given. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that those words do not indicate any disregard of or any indifference to the interests of the C.E.A.

Mr. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend apply himself to the fact that it is the declared policy of the Government to curb monopoly and to smash price rings? If that be the case, whether Lord Citrine was speaking in a personal capacity or in his capacity as chairman of the Central Electricity Authority, surely what he said is absolutely inimical to the objectives of my right hon. Friends?

Mr. Jones

The declared policy of the Government about price rings is enshrined in the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill. The words which I have quoted from Lord Citrine's speech are entirely consistent with the Bill. In other words, level tendering or collusion may be justifiable in certain cases carefully set out in Clause 16 of the Bill. This is no more and no less than that.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Liberal Party professes to have a high regard for individual liberty, and that all that Lord Citrine has done is to express a personal opinion? Is he also aware that Lord Citrine has rendered better service to the community than the whole of the Liberal Party put together?

Mr. Speaker

I think we have heard quite enough on this Question.

Mr. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman is all frozen up, as usual.