HC Deb 22 March 1956 vol 550 cc1440-2
9. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will amend the present practice which prevents the annual dislosure of the financial loss incurred in selling stocks held by his Department.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Stocks of materials held by the Board of Trade are of two kinds—those remaining from trading operations formerly conducted by the Government and those held as a strategic reserve. Financial results in connection with the liquidation of trading operations are published annually by order of the House in the Trading Accounts and Balance Sheets of trading or commercial services conducted by Government Departments, together with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon. In the case of strategic stocks, purchases and sales are undertaken not for commercial, but for strategic, reasons and an annual statement in commercial terms of the financial results would therefore be inappropriate. The actual expenditure year by year from money voted for this purpose and the receipts taken into the Exchequer are, however, shown in the annual Appropriation Accounts.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but is he aware that it does not answer the Question? Will he admit or deny that he has lost vast sums of money in selling stocks held by his Department? Is he further aware that any Minister who sells 350,000 gallons of castor oil and calls it a normal turnover must be regarded as a bit of a menace?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think the answer sets out clearly what has been the policy of all Governments in dealing with these stocks.

Mr. H. Wilson

Would the right hon. Gentleman not now be a little more forthcoming with the House about the strategic stocks? Does he recall that when asked about this a few weeks ago he gave a very vague and evasive answer? Since then he has announced very large sales from the strategic stockpile without, as far as I know, informing the House. Since we all recognise the importance of the strategic security considerations, will he, in turn, not recognise that these are now passing when he is selling these large quantities? Will he make all the financial figures available?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the White Paper on Defence he will see our policy with regard to strategic stocks set out there. These sales are in pursuance of that general policy, but I am not prepared, any more than any other Government have been prepared, to disclose details of these sales.

Mr. Wilson

Since the right hon. Gentleman has issued statements to the Press in the last few days giving detailed figures of the quantities to be sold, running into very many millions of pounds, no security consideration can be involved. Will he not have another look at this to see whether he cannot give the House fuller information, after the transactions have been carried out, in order that the House may judge the commercial and financial results of his action?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am quite prepared to give the House all the information which is normally given to it as a matter of practice on the subject of strategic stocks, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a matter upon which information cannot be given with quite the same freedom as on other topics.