§ 11. Mr. Warbey
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will refer to the Monopolies Commission the terms and conditions under which a chemical required by the Atomic Energy Authority and referred to in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on the Authority's balance sheet is supplied by the sole manufacturers thereof.
§ Mr. Maudling
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education informed the 1074 House on 12th May that he understood that the Public Accounts Committee would shortly have the opportunity of hearing evidence on the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report from the Accounting Officer for the Atomic Energy Vote and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority. When the Committee's Report is available, I shall consider whether any action on my part would be appropriate.
§ Mr. Warbey
Before I put my supplementary question, Mr. Speaker, may I raise with you a point of order and seek your guidance on two points? First of all, as this is the second occasion within a few weeks on which the Minister has hidden behind the skirts of the Public Accounts Committee, would you say whether it is in order for a Minister or any Member of the House to refer to a matter as being before the Public Accounts Committee before the Committee has reported to this House? Secondly, will you say whether or not it is in order for this House to deal immediately with a matter on the basis of a Report made by the Comptroller and Auditor General?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is probably all right to refer to a matter which is referred to by the Comptroller and Auditor General, because he reports to this House. Whether or no dealing with it by Question and Answer before the Committee has reported is thought to be the best method is another matter. Strictly, I suppose, we cannot indicate in this House any proceedings before the Committee before it has reported. I think there must be some commonsense principle about it in this sense, that if a Minister desires to say to the House, that being his view, that he would rather deal with the matter after the Committee has reported, it is material in that context to say that the matter is before the Committee.
§ Mr. Warbey
While accepting your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman what further evidence he requires than that provided in the Report fo the Comptroller and Auditor General, in view of the fact that the manufacturers refuse to supply the chemical except on a cost-plus basis, and insisted upon a minimum profit of 17 per cent., rising to 45 per cent., and, in addition— 1075 [Interruption.]—it is just as well that these facts should be widely known—and insisted that the cost should include the amortisation of the capital expended on new plant over a period of five years? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this matter ought immediately to be referred to the Monopolies Commission in order to show that it is quite improper that a powerful private monopoly should hold up the public interest to ransom in this way?
§ Mr. Maudling
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that I am waiting to hear the other side of the case.