HC Deb 14 April 1960 vol 621 cc1453-4
14. Mr. Grimond

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will ensure that the House of Commons is informed of all proposals to assist private firms from public funds; and that, in the case of large loans, grants or other assistance, opportunity will be given for discussion.

Mr. Barber

All measures by the Government to assist private firms from public funds are carried out under powers conferred by Parliament. But it would be wrong in principle for the Government as a general rule to publish detailed information about financial transactions which it enters into under these powers with individuals or companies. Apart from other obvious objections to its doing so, general publication of details of such confidential transactions would hamper the execution of the policies which Parliament has approved.

Mr. Grimond

Is this not rather unsatisfactory from Parliament's point of view? Will the Minister not agree that these grants and loans are bound, sooner or later, to be put in the account of the companies concerned and therefore the information will be available to the public? Should not Parliament be informed in advance? Will the Minister cast his mind back to the early hours of one morning when the Leader of the House undertook to inform Parliament if more loans were made under the Iron and Steel Bill. If there is a case under that Bill, should we not also be informed of loans to the aircraft industry?

Mr. Barber

I will certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman says about the aircraft industry, and I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to what he has said with regard to the opportunity for this House debating these matters. But I think that, in general, one must dis- tinguish between general legislation and legislation which is directed to specific firms or companies.

In the case of the Iron and Steel (Financial Provisions) Bill, which was concerned with loans to collieries, that was legislation directed to a specific company. So far as general legislation is concerned, one of the difficulties which immediately comes to mind is that if certain conditions are imposed on, say, company A and are not imposed on company B, because the first company is perhaps less efficient than the second, it may well be that we should not be able to encourage companies to do what the House by legislation wants them to do if we disclosed the full details.

Mr. Jay

Would not the Minister agree that, though general information is highly desirable, at least in the case of firms invited to set up factories in unemployment areas, too much private detail might deter them from doing what we all want them to do?

Mr. Barber

Whilst I realise that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to have as much information as possible, there is, I think, a limit to what we can do if we are to carry out the objective of Parliament.