I do not think that it would be desirable to take the powers suggested by the hon. and learned Member, but I am satisfied that we should be able, if the need arose, to control industries vital to the defence of this country.
I do not think that what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said is conclusive at all. Because the ball-bearing industry is important to this country, that does not mean that we 207 should prevent foreign investment in that industry. We have other means of controlling such industries if and when the need arises.
§ Mr. Paget
Surely the right hon. Gentleman told me, in answer to a supplementary question on an earlier Question, when I said that there might be a danger of this industry closing down, that if that happened he could do absolutely nothing about it and would not intend to do anything about it, but now he agrees that this is a vital industry to British defence and seems to give me a wholly inconsistent answer.
No. If the hon. and learned Gentleman really thinks this out I think he will find that that is far from being so. A particular unit in an industry can be closed down quite apart from any foreign ownership.
§ Mr. Albu
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many American industries are finding that they are pricing themselves out of world markets, and is it not a serious danger to competition that such take-overs of British industries might be used to prejudice the position by closing some of them down or reducing their production?
I would not have thought so. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to get this matter in perspective. If this kind of movement assumed what the Government considered was undesirable or dangerous proportions, a different situation might be created. There is nothing in what has happened to date to justify any feeling of alarm among the people of this country or anyone in industry.
Mr. H. Wilson
Is it not time that the Chancellor made a clear statement to the House about what powers he has in this matter instead of referring vaguely to other controls which he would use? Would he give the House, if not today, a considered statement as to what powers the Government have or would have or would use to prevent important defence or other industries passing out of the control of this country? Since he has told us that any control of purchases through the Stock Exchange is something not requiring Treasury permission, would 208 he tell us how he proposes to deal with this position?
Our powers in normal times are restricted to the powers under the Exchequer Control Act, but in emergency the Government would no doubt take special powers to deal with this and many other situations that arose.
The Treasury can only become aware of what is proposed when proposals are made. No proposals have been yet made.
§ 27. Mr. Snow
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will publish a White Paper on the general subject of the purchase by United States interests of the financial control of United Kingdom public companies, with specific reference to the consideration and authorisations involving his Department consequential upon the loss of these financial controls.
No, Sir. It is the policy of this Government to encourage overseas investment by our own residents both in the Commonwealth and, so far as we can afford it, in other countries. We also welcome investment in United Kingdom companies by non-residents. These closer relations are important to the welfare and prosperity of the world.
§ Mr. Snow
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we do not entirely share his complacency and attitude that there should be equity between the United States and this country on the question 209 of capital transfers? Is he aware that one of the developing dangers of this encroachment on our financial control of industries in this country is that American controlled companies under the present practice arid the new tendencies in the transfer of capital can restrict exports from this country and our export trade is thereby jeopardised?
I very much doubt whether that has been the experience to date. I would also remind the hon. Gentleman that inflow of capital of this kind increases proportionately our capacity to make fresh new net investments in the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Edelman
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware, when he equates British investments overseas with American investments in this country, that ours are of a general kind whereas investment by the Americans is in strategic and key industries in this country? Is he not aware that by making that kind of investment the Americans get control of our industries, which is totally different from the widespread and benevolent investment that we make overseas?
Again, I think that the hon. Member will find that generally the spread of American investment in this country over the past ten years has been extremely wide and varied. As to the second part of his supplementary question, this is an important matter and the Government will, of course, keep the situation as it develops continuously under review.
§ 28. Mr. Snow
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware of the growing public disquiet at the way in which United States financial interests are securing control of important British public companies; and what companies, involving capital sums of £150,000 and over, have been authorised by his Department during the years 1952 to 1958 inclusive to sell to United States interests their financial control.
I do not think that there is any general disquiet, nor do I think there is cause for it. I regret that I could not provide the information for which the hon. Gentleman asked without quite disproportionate labour.
§ Mr. Snow
In view of what two leaders In The Times, which were followed up 210 in other newspapers, have said, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this causes some disquiet? Is he further aware that there are an estimated 30 American stockbrokers or their agents now operating in the City trying to spot industries which might be taken over? Is he not aware that we on this side of the House do not share the views of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite who, while Question No. 20 was being answered, said it was preferable that Americans should have control of certain of our industries rather than that the British Government should control them?
I will take note of what the hon. Member has said. I do not share his views about the undesirability of what has happened to date, but once again I would say that this important matter is one which the Government intend to keep continuously under review.
Yes, Sir, at last I can agree with something that a right hon. Gentleman opposite has said. I agree that there is a distinction there. This is a matter which, of course, is kept in our minds when we consider on its merits each application under the Exchange Control Act.