HC Deb 23 April 1959 vol 604 cc582-3
23. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if his attention has been drawn to recent sales to United States residents of a substantial part of the equity in British firms; and, in view of the relevance of such sales to security, defence production, Commonwealth development, employment policy, labour relations, and the balance of payments, if he will appoint a committee of inquiry to consider the relative gains and losses to the national interest of such transactions.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave on 21st April to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow).

Mr. Wilson

This Question was tabled before 21st April. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members in all parts of the House probably draw a sharp distinction between American investment in this country, which brings new firms, factories, techniques and know-how, and the purchase of shares, which may lead to the control of an important British firm by alien ownership?

Mr. Erroll

I appreciate, as does my right hon. Friend, that there is such a distinction, but in the case of British Timken Limited I should like to remind him that it is only the purchase of a minority interest which is proposed just now, as the transfer of control of British Timken to the United States company took place in April, 1951, when the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were in power.

Mr. Snow

In spite of what the Economic Secretary said, is it not a fact that there is already evidence at his disposal that where American companies establish subsidiaries in this country or take over control of existing industries they ensure that there is no free export franchise? To that extent, there is a long-term problem which his Department ought to look into.

Mr. Erroll

Naturally, we keep this matter constantly under review. I will take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

26 and 27. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) which United Kingdom companies have been partially or completely acquired by United States companies;

(2) whether he will state the subsidiary companies of United States companies now established in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Erroll

I regret that this information is not available.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is not this a rather important matter? While not wishing to pronounce on any particular transaction, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that one of the causes of the Russian Revolution was, and one of the causes of much international resentment and ill-feeling today is, the transfer of the ownership of vital national enterprises to foreign concerns in creditor countries?

Mr. Erroll

Yes, certainly. My hon. Friend may or may not be historically correct, but the point at issue in 1959 is that Great Britain invests abroad, and we rightly believe that foreign interests should have the right to invest here.

Mr. Bellenger

When the Economic Secretary says that the information is not available, does he mean that it is not available in his Department? Is it not available, for example, from the Financial Times or from the Economist, and could not the Government enlist their aid if they have not sources of information themselves in order to give the House an adequate reply?

Mr. Erroll

No, the information is not available from official sources. I have been looking into the question whether returns of this sort could be obtained, but one must remember that it would necessarily impose additional work on firms who will be asked to provide the information required.