HC Deb 17 November 1960 vol 630 cc539-43
26. Mr. Oram

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will consult the representatives of organised workers employed by the Ford Motor Company of the United Kingdom before giving Treasury consent to the proposed purchase of shares by the American Ford Motor Company.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

Mr. W. B. Beard, the Chairman of the Ford Joint Negotiating Committee, has been informed that I shall be willing to meet a deputation if one wishes to see me.

Mr. Oram

I am sure that the employees at Fords will appreciate that undertaking, but may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he is aware that the employees at Fords are deeply anxious lest this proposed deal should lead to a worsening in their employment prospects? Is it not most important that their interests should be fully consulted in this matter as well as the financial interests?

Mr. Lloyd

I certainly agree that it is very important to consider the interests of those who work at Fords.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

If it is the purpose of Fords of America, as some hon. Members fear, to restrict expansion and output of English Fords, can my right hon. and learned Friend explain how anyone in possession of his senses would first inject 400 million dollars into a concern which it is intended to impoverish?

27. Mr. Edelman

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will refuse permission to the American Ford Company of Detroit to acquire the balance of the shares now in possession of the British Ford Company of Dagenham.

28. Mr. Wade

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what applications have been made for Treasury consent for permission for the purchase by Fords of Detroit of the outstanding shares in Fords of Dagenham; and whether consent will be granted.

Mr. Lloyd

No application has yet been received and I am therefore not able to add today to my reply to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) on 15th November. I am still hoping, as I said then, to be able to make a statement on Monday, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has told me that if I am able to do this, he is prepared to arrange for a debate, if wanted, later that evening.

Mr. Edelman

But in the meantime, is not the Chancellor aware that Mr. Henry Ford has said that he wants absolute control in order to have greater flexibility? Does not this "greater flexibility" mean, in plain English, the power to manipulate British Fords, and, therefore, the British motor industry, in the interests of American Fords?

Is the Chancellor aware that 100,000 workers in the British car industry, who now face the winter in want and in considerable anxiety—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—about the prospects of employment, and are on short time, are gravely concerned that the proposed sellout to Fords of America will be yet another betrayal of their interests?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that there are strong views precisely to the contrary—that this particular transaction, if sanctioned, would fortify the position of those who work in the industry. As to the regulating of production, a controlling interest is already in the hands of the Ford Company of America and that company can do that sort of thing now.

Mr. Wade

While I am aware that one must not be too nationalistic in one's approach to this subject, may I ask the Chancellor if he is aware of the statement by Mr. Henry Ford, reported in The Times yesterday, in which he not only referred to the need for greater operational flexibility but also to the development of the Common Market? Would it not be as well to defer this consent until Britain has joined the Common Market, or may we at least have an assurance that that aspect will be kept in mind by the right hon. and learned Gentleman?

Mr. Lloyd

Even the most optimistic of hon. Members might think that that might be to postpone the matter for some time. The argument is against the hon. Member's suggestion. The danger here may be that the investment or the development will go to the German factory if it does not come to Fords at Dagenham.

Mr. Ridsdale

Would the Chancellor consider the possibility of being paid in stock rather than in cash? Would this not be an addition to our financial position?

Mr. Lloyd

I will consider that suggestion, but I am not sure that I could agree with it.

Mr. H. Wilson

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is approaching this problem with a closed mind, despite the fact that no application has been made to him, would he now answer the question which the Leader of the House was not able to answer very fully yesterday? May we have a categorical assurance that there has been no discussion on this question between the Ford Company and any representatives either of the Treasury, the Board of Trade or the Bank of England?

Secondly, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not finally made up his mind, would he give consideration to the suggestion that as the investors are apparently not very interested in holding on to these shares at the price offered, Her Majesty's Government might buy them?

Mr. Lloyd

I will deal with the question of approaches to the Government either through the Board of Trade, the Treasury or anybody else. In 1957 there was an approach about a rather different scheme. There were exploratory discussions which came to nothing. In this proposal, there has been no approach, either direct or indirect, to the Treasury or to the Board of Trade or the Bank of England.

Captain Pilkington

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend at least agree that it would be a bad thing if too big a proportion of the British car industry, in which we have so distinguished ourselves since the war, passed into foreign hands?

Mr. Lloyd

One has to remember where the present control is.

Mr. Jay

When Henry Ford was in London four weeks ago, did he have discussions with the Chancellor, or the Board of Trade or the Bank of England?

Mr. Lloyd

He did not have any discussions with me. He met the President of the Board of Trade, but this topic was not mentioned.

Mr. Paget

The Chancellor made the point that the Americans already have control. The object of obtaining a minority holding is that under the Companies Acts the minority can prevent the interests of the British company being sacrificed to those of the parent company, and it is precisely because the parent company intends to sacrifice those interests that this share is being bought.

Mr. Lloyd

I do not accept either branch of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said.

Mr. Parker

Will the Chancellor bear in mind the possibility of early American devaluation before he makes up his mind on this matter?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, I will take into account all possible factors.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Chancellor has said that he hopes to make a statement on this subject on Monday, but he has not yet received any application and nor have there been any informal approaches. Has he made up his mind what answer he is to give, or is he not to take a little more time to think it over?

Mr. Lloyd

Since we were first told about this matter, which was shortly before the announcement in the Press, I have been considering it. [HON. MEMBERS: "When was that?"] We were informed late on Monday night by the Ford Company of this country that the announcement was to be made the next day. There was no approach, we were just told about it and we have been considering the matter.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not the Chancellor's intention, however, before making up his mind, at least to have further discussions with the Ford Motor Company about this business? Will he not seek some assurance from them at least about what will happen to the company over here?

Mr. Lloyd

When the application comes, I shall consider how to deal with it and whether it is necessary to seek such assurances, and that is one reason why I said that I hoped to be able to make a statement on Monday. If the application has not come, clearly I cannot do so.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it the Chancellor's idea that the statement he makes on Monday will be the Government's decision or simply the announcement that he has received the application and any other information available?

Mr. Lloyd

I must reserve my position on that.

Several Hon. Members rose


Mr. Speaker

We really must be getting on. Mr. Houghton.