HC Deb 12 December 1963 vol 686 cc553-4
25 and 27. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development (1) what reasons were given by the Development Areas Treasury Advisory Committee when recommending that financial assistance should be given to the North British Locomotive Company;

(2) whether he was consulted by the North British Locomotive Company, to which public money has been loaned and whose chairman is a Government-appointed director, regarding its liquidation; what representation she has received from shareholders and others on this matter; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. du Cann

The Development Areas Treasury Advisory Committee did not have to give reasons for their decisions. Before recommending financial assistance, however, they had, under statute, to be satisfied that the undertaking, although unable at the relevant time to obtain, the capital required on the requisite terms, would ultimately be able to be carried on successfully without further assistance. The Board of Trade had advance information of the company's intention to go into liquidation, but the decision was solely that of the company. I have had representations from some of the shareholders, to whom I have explained that the Government were not at any time or in any way responsible for the manner in which the company's affairs were conducted.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Did the Government try to assist the company to get orders for locomotives? Did not the Government-appointed director reconstitute the board and reinforce the view of the Government, in reports to shareholders, that there were not unfavourable prospects for this company? Now that the Government have advised its liquidation, are they entirely not disposed to see whether they can help the modest shareholders who put their money into this company? We understand that the Government want their money back, and that the General Electric Company wants its money back, but will not the Government consider the case of the shareholders? Will not the Minister receive a small deputation on this matter?

Mr. du Cann

A serious attempt was made to put this company on its feet which, had it succeeded, would have been of great benefit to all. The unhappy fact is that it did not succeed. The Government simply cannot underwrite every company to which they give financial assistance. On the other hand, I would be very ready to receive the deputation to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Woodburn

Is not the Minister aware that two sets of shareholders are concerned—those who began to speculate when they saw that the Government were supporting the company, and who naturally have lost in their gamble, and the original shareholders, who have lost considerably?

Mr. dp Cann

I still think that the basic point is the tragedy that the efforts to make this company work did not succeed.