HC Deb 14 February 1967 vol 741 cc504-22

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

There are some serious points on this Clause, the major Clause of the Bill, on which we must ask the Minister of State for clarification. The Bill raises the limits within which the Export Credits Guarantee Department is enabled to operate, and we on this side have already made clear that we support the action which the Government propose. When I spoke on Second Reading I said that the Department was doing a very good job in promoting the nation's exports, and I stressed the importance which this had for the working of the whole economy. But one has heard some criticisms of the way the Department works, and I think it right to say what these are alleged to be and to ask for explanations.

The questions of particular importance arise in connection with shipbuilding credit. The rôle which the Department plays in shipbuilding is vital because there is no market in which competition on credit terms is more severe than this. The shipbuilding market has been distorted in the post-war period by the development of flags of convenience, the advent of flag discrimination, the question of shipbuilding subsidies and changes in the whole basis on which shipbuilding is financed.

Before the war, shipbuilding was financed largely on the basis of knowledge of the expertise of the ship-owner concerned. In the post-war period, it has been based largely on the fact that the person building the ship has been able to obtain a long-term charter from a certain company, frequently an oil company, and raise credit on that basis. This has led to a general intensification in the competitive credit terms offered by various countries in order to stimulate the activities of their shipbuilding industries.

The Committee will agree that the terms now offered by the Export Credits Guarantee Department are very good. Eighty per cent. of the total cost spread over ten years is offered at 5½ per cent. interest, and this is available to foreign ship-owners buying from British yards. But these loans are subject to the Department's cover, and, as one sees from the admirable E.C.G.D. booklet explaining the work of the Department, this can take two alternative forms. It can either come under a special shipbuilding policy or it can come under a financial guarantee. On this basis, the Department will ask the person who requests the guarantee to provide a certain collateral, and this can take the form, in the case of an owner of considerable standing in the international market, of a purely personal guarantee, or, if his standing is, perhaps, not sufficient on a personal basis, it can take the form of a mortgage on other ships in his fleet. Alternatively, a long-term time charter of the kind I mentioned just now can be taken into account.

As I understand it, the Export Credits Guarantee Department does not have a standard basis for deciding how the collateral offered by the ship-owner shall be calculated, and one hears complaints—perhaps valid, perhaps not—that other countries which are notable for their shipbuilding activities make clear to those who wish to raise credit to purchase ships the basis which they will use when evaluating the first mortgage on the ship itself. This means that the person concerned can form a very clear idea of how much additional collateral he has to raise. It is very similar to someone undertaking a house purchase, where it is a question of how much a building society will advance on the basis of the house itself, and then how much additional collateral the building society will ask the owner-occupier to provide.

11.15 p.m.

Clearly, as with a house so in the case of a shipbuilder it is a great advantage to know how much the person offering the mortgage is prepared to advance on the value. A number of other countries, anxious to promote their shipbuilding, have made it clear to international purchasers that they will regard a certain percentage of the value of the ship as collateral.

If the ship is valued at £1 million, they might say, "We will take 40 per cent. of the value of the ship as collateral," or alternatively it might be 60 per cent., "and this will go towards the percentage on which we are prepared to give you a loan". I presume that over and above that amount, the purchaser has to find the whole amount out of his own resources.

The point which troubles us on this side of the Committee is that we feel that unless the Export Credits Guarantee Department is prepared to make a similarly clear statement of the amount of the value of the ship which it is prepared to take as collateral it might be that although the terms are extremely good and competitive compared with those of other countries, none the less the order goes to a Japanese or Scandinavian shipbuilding yard rather than to this country. This is something which I think the whole Committee will agree we need to avoid if it can be done by a fairly simple administrative change.

Clearly, there would have to be exceptions. One would not expect the E.C.G.D. to take as collateral the same percentage of the value of a ship, let us say, of the heavy-lift sort, a special vessel the market for which may be uncertain. But so far as the general run of tramp or line shipping is concerned, one would have thought that a clear statement of this kind would do a great deal to make it easier for those who wish to sell British ships from British yards to become competitive in offering standard terms.

The second point which I think needs to be made is concerned with the way in which the application is treated. It is sometimes said that the E.C.G.D. is not as rapid as similar organisations, or organisations for fulfilling the same purpose in other countries, in carrying through the negotiations, which involve considerable sums, of the order of £1 million, more or less.

If it were possible for the E.C.G.D. to provide a standard form—clearly with some sections which would allow for exceptions for a particular vessel—this would provide something which a British yard could show to a prospective purchaser. It could then say, "This is the type of form we normally need completed", and could indicate which pages needed to be filled up automatically and which might need to be discussed. If a standard form could be provided, it might help to speed up the process, and in this kind of market speed may well be the deciding factor whether an order comes to this country or not.

Thirdly, there is a case for standardising the terms on which the E.C.G.D. itself offers to finance the purchase of a ship. I understand that it has been the practice of the E.C.G.D. in recent times to impose certain conditions. I understand, for example, that it is required that the vessel concerned shall be insured directly at Lloyds. Is this the normal practice of the E.C.G.D.? If so, is it done off its own bat or at the request of Lloyds? Who is responsible for adopting this policy?

Whether the insurance is placed at Lloyds or elsewhere it is statistically likely to come back to Lloyds through the reinsurance market. The danger is that if restrictive terms of that sort are imposed by the E.C.G.D. foreign owners may well feel that because they are forced to insure the ship concerned directly at Lloyds the insurance they already have directly with Lloyds should be withdrawn. When our position in insurance is so pre-eminent, and the conditions we offer so good, there may be a case for eliminating that kind of term. I should be glad if the Minister could confirm whether restrictions of that kind are imposed, and whether there are good reasons for their imposition.

I studied with considerable interest the booklet on the E.C.G.D., particularly as it concerned shipbuilding, and a question arises on the rate of interest discussed on page 46 under the heading, "Financing a major project"—of which shipbuilding is regarded as one—"Financial Guarantees". The normal advance is 80 per cent. over 10 years, at a rate of interest of 5½ per cent. The paragraph concerned says that … the banks have agreed to provide such finance at a fixed rate of interest of 5½ per cent. When I discussed interest rates on Second Reading I said that I thought that in general terms there was a case for this country adopting the same rate of interest as other countries, and for there not being a kind of Dutch auction on interest rates.

That competitive rate of interest is granted for shipbuilding by the banks themselves, apparently. It is significantly below the present Bank Rate, and has been so for a number of years. Can the Minister tell us whether the banks grant it entirely on their own initiative or whether it is something with which the Government help them in some way?

The Committee will appreciate that my points on the Question, That the Clause stand part, are designed, as our probing Amendments throughout have been, to ensure that the exports of this country are given every facility in a very competitive market to enable them to earn the foreign exchange on which we inevitably depend. It was for that reason that it seemed to me to be worth while to put forward those points which arise on the raising of the limits. As I pointed out on Second Reading, we get an opportunity to discuss this whole matter only every three, four or five years. If anything can be done that will improve the position of our exporters by raising those points in Committee I think that the Opposition are right to raise them.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

The Export Credits Guarantee Department is doing a splendid job. It is helping our exports every year, probably by a larger and larger amount, but two complaints were made to me recently when I was talking to a ship-owning friend. He said that by the Department's operation foreign ship-owners were getting a more favourable rate on borrowing money to buy British ships flan was the home ship-owner. If that is the result of this legislation and the policies of the Department, this should be seriously looked into. Obviously, we want to increase exports but we do not want to penalise the home ship-owner.

The other point which has been made to me from time to time is that, whereas the big companies are pretty well satisfied with the work of the Department, the small man always seems to have a little more difficulty. He has to pay a higher rate than the big man when he goes for the small parcels of insurance. Perhaps he does not know his way round the Department and does not quite find the information that is so easily found by the big company. By and large, the small man is not so satisfied as the big man with the work of the Department. These two points have been made to me over the last few months about the work of the Department, which generally is excellent.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I want to address my remarks mainly to something said on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and about which the Minister of State very kindly wrote to him. My hon. Friend mentioned specifically the problems of the horticulturist. As he has just said, we get the opportunity to discuss this matter only every four or five years and I urge upon the Minister of State the problems that are likely to lie ahead of British horticulturists during that period.

We are passing a Measure to provide a sizeable sum of money which is quite essential to the work of the Department, and I am wholly behind it. But the British horticulturist has a curious problem. He has to get over the hurdles of plant health restrictions in other countries after getting a certificate from a Ministry of Agriculture inspector in this country.

I would like the Department, within the framework of the cash we are giving it, to be able to guarantee a small exporter who has a certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture that his produce complies with the regulations of the other country concerned. He would be able to go to the Department and insure the certificate, given in good faith and expected in good faith to be accepted in the country of delivery.

The right hon. Gentleman wrote to my hon. Friend after the Second Reading debate because there was not time to answer the point and I thank him for his courteous letter. Where the small horticultural exporter is not flouting the laws of the other country—I realise that he could not be guaranteed against that—but where an inspector in that country is, to put it bluntly, bloody-minded in face of a reasonable certificate given here by the Ministry of Agriculture, and declares the product unacceptable for health reasons, with the result that it is destroyed, there is no further evidence and no come-back for the poor chap here, who has to meet the loss involved.

The right hon. Gentleman made the valid point in the letter that there is no limit to the amount of guarantee but that the small exporter has to pay a slightly higher premium because he is able to shop around for all the cover he needs, but as we are unlikely to have another opportunity to raise this matter again for some four or five years it is essential, even if such a provision cannot be incorporated in the Bill at this late stage, that the Department should seek to give this special umbrella to the horticultural exporter.

11.30 p.m.

I say this because at this juncture we are getting closer to the Common Market, and the British nurseryman is the one section of the horticultural industry who is likely to do well in the export sphere. As the Minister of State is well aware, some of our leading chrysanthemum houses have an extremely good record in exporting cutting materials and rooted cuttings. The great tradition of the British gardening and the nursery trade, as opposed to the trade in foodstuffs, is likely to have great export potential. It is here that the Health Regulations, and the relations of the Ministry of Agriculture inspectorate between one country and another, come into the picture.

The Minister is aware of the constituency case which I raised with him, and I am most grateful to him for his help although it was negative. I appreciate the interest that he has taken. I am not addressing my remarks to any single constituency matter but to British agriculture as a whole, in view of the problems which will lie ahead in the next four or five years.

There is one final point, arising out of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). This dealt with overseas ship-owners being in a more favourable position. I remind the Minister of State of another matter to do with shipping, which I have raised with him by correspondence and which was raised by my noble Friend, Lord Drumalbyn, on the Report stage of the Companies Bill in another place. As I understand it, the matter was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) earlier this afternoon, on the Companies Bill. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the point about marine mortgages, and tie it in with the thoughts that must arise out of the principal monetary Clause of this most important Bill.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

I am glad co say that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) is under a misapprehension about the raising of matters from time to time. He does not need to wait for the next Export Credits Guarantee Amendment Bill. I invite him, because the points that he has raised by correspondence and in conversation are germane to the export trades of this country, to raise matters at any time that he likes. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) pointed out in the House on Monday morning, in a truncated debate, during some actions that I cannot, in language unguarded, describe, that as a merchant banker he could go to the Export Credits Guarantee Department and raise questions, but when he wanted to raise matters with the Department as a Member of Parliament he had, for obvious reasons to act through me.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bring his questions to me, and I will endeavour to deal with them as quickly as possible. The point about the horticultural trade, is being looked at again and I can assure the hon. Member that the Export Credits Guarantee Department has a sympathetic approach to the problem. It does arise in other instances——

Mr. John Wells

It does not occur in any other instance so finally, because once stocks have been destroyed by what I call a bloody-minded inspector, they have gone for all time.

Mr. Darling

It is not so clear-cut. I was going on to say that it arises where, because of unexpected rules and regulations in the importing country, the export order disappears and the poor exporter is left with the whole cost of the operation, receiving nothing in return. This occurs in other cases. It is a problem that we have to deal with. As I say, we shall look at the horticultural question again and try to deal with it sympathetically.

The question of marine mortgages is a little more difficult. I think we can discuss it on another occasion. As I have said, the future occasions are not limited in any way.

The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) raised two very important issues on shipbuilding. We understand and appreciate their importance. However, I think that I can answer him fairly briefly.

First, there is the question of a formula for evaluating mortgages. As we understand it, the overseas shipbuilding country to which he has referred uses a formula whereby the mortgage is normally taken as 55 per cent. of the total cost of the ship. That is where it begins. But there are exceptions, we understand. We have friendly relations with the country concerned and are having discussions about just what the exceptions are.

The approach of the E.C.G.D. has been somewhat different. This is the way in which the Department has worked in the past. Rather than have a standard formula, the Department has been far more flexible in its general approach to securities, whether they are mortgages or otherwise. I understand that, generally speaking, this has been favourable to British shipbuilders seeking to sell their ships abroad.

It must also be remembered in this regard that the credit period available through the Department is often longer than that given by the country to which the hon. Member referred, but because it has been the policy of the Department to put British exporters at least on level terms with their competitors, we are looking at the whole matter again. We are taking account of the recent representations made to us by British shipbuilders, and we are looking urgently into whether it would be desirable to offer similar arrangements for mortgage evaluation to those provided in other countries. So again we stick to the claim that we make, that we will match the best credits that are being offered by other countries.

I think we had better leave it at that point. The operative word that I have used is "urgently". We are looking into the matter urgently. The representations that we have received make it quite clear that this is an urgent problem and that we must get it right.

The hon. Member's second point was about what I would call standard documentation. Most shipping credits at the moment take the form of loans from a British bank to the buyer, guaranteed by the Department, which enables the buyer, in effect, to pay cash for the sale contract. Standard application forms for this type of cover are already available from the Department. The Department's view is that it is not possible to produce a completely standard form of loan agreement because the circumstances, needs, trades, markets, borrowers, lenders and so on vary so widely, but we agree that it would be useful to have a standard specimen form of agreement that could be shown to buyers and used as a basis for drafting the final contract in a great number of cases. The Department has already got this form in preparation, and it will be available very soon.

I think that the criticism that has been made by the hon. Member has been anticipated, but, of course, he is not the first person to make the criticism. I have asked the Department to look at the question of Lloyd's reinsurance and the possibility that this may go round in a circle. I am not sure of the answer, but I will get in touch with the hon. Member and we can discuss it again.

As to Bank Rate, I understand that since 1962 the banks have been making available medium-term finance at the fixed rate of interest mentioned by the hon. Member of 5½ per cent. for export transactions which are covered by the specific bank guarantees. These arrangements were later extended to include longer-term finance provided against the Department's financial guarantees. For business on short-term credit of less than two years, arrangements were introduced early this year whereby the banks agreed to make finance available at Bank Rate for business covered by the comprehensive bank guarantee. At present, I understand that this applies only to bill business, but the Department is discussing with the banks the possibility of widening the scheme to embrace open account business as well.

The 5½ per cent. arrangements were originally for five years from January, 1962. The arrangements are continuing unchanged, but the Department and the Board of Trade will be reviewing all the circumstances relating to these bank guarantees and the rate of interest in a year's time. I do not know whether the hon. Member can wait so long, but we will certainly have opportunities for discussing these matters before then. I will keep the hon. Member informed of the progress that we make in the discussions.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has not caught up with the proceedings under the Bill. His question concerning British buyers of British ships getting credit terms less favourable than for foreign buyers of ships built in the United Kingdom does not arise on the Bill.

When the question was raised on Second Reading, I made it clear that we were considering a Bill dealing with export credits and that, therefore, the question of credit terms for British buyers of British ships did not come within the scope of the Bill. As I explained on that occasion, however, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, who includes shipbuilding under his umbrella of responsibilities, had made an announcement in the House. My right hon. Friend said in answer to a Question on 17th January: I am now considering representations made to me by shipbuilders about credit facilities in the light of the overriding need for reorganisation of the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1967; Vol. 739, c. 21.] The question raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham is, therefore, being considered fairly urgently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, whose responsibility it is. This Bill is an exporting Bill and not a Bill to provide credit terms for British buyers of British ships.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is it true, however, that by the operation of the Bill the foreign shipowner gets more favourable terms than a British shipowner?

Mr. Darling

Yes—at least, that is the allegation which is made. As I have said, the position is being looked into. If the hon. Member refers to the Second Reading debate, he will find that it was dealt with then.

Mr. Higgins

I should like to take up the point made by the Minister of State, who will, I am sure, agree that the foreign purchaser aspect of the shipbuilding side is important.

11.45 p.m.

I welcome the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made on standard documentation, as I am sure will British shipbuilders and foreign purchasers.

On the extent of collateral, I am sure that he is right in saying that a certain other country appears to be much more specific than we are. On initial inquiry, they may say that the value of a ship will be taken as 55 per cent. of the total cost, so that on an 80 per cent. mortgage, the owner is expected to find some 25 per cent. of the cost as collateral security.

While I accept that there must be some exceptions, I hope that in the urgent consideration which the right hon. Gentleman has promised to give to this matter he will consider whether some specific statement cannot be made, both in the case of dry cargo ships between certain specified tonnages and equally in the case of oil tankers presumably between somewhat larger tonnages. If these minimum figures can be set down, it will enable the ordinary purchaser of a standard dry cargo vessel or oil tanker to be in a better position to assess the credit position. It is much the same as the distinction between houses and purchase-built flats in the housing market. If that can be done, it will be a great help.

Another point which has been worrying me is that the E.C.G.D.—the bank between them—is asking for a lot of collateral guarantees, a down-payment, and so on, yet there is still an E.C.G.D. guarantee. What is it that the Department is guaranteeing, when it is already covered by collateral where the value of a ship, which is presumably worth 100 per cent. of its cost, is only valued at 55 per cent., and on top of that there has to be a personal guarantee, and on top of that there has to be a long-term charter? I faced much the same situation when I came to buy a house, but in that case a guarantee was not required in advance.

I am sorry to spring this on the Minister of State, but it has been worrying me. What is being guaranteed in this context? I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman will not be in a position to answer at this moment, but perhaps he will be good enough to let me know in due course.

Mr. Darling

I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

11.48 p.m.

Mr. Darling

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In spite of some unfortunate episodes on Monday morning, the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the House generally have dealt with the Bill sympathetically. It has received the full support of the House both on Second Reading and in the subsequent proceedings during which we have discussed its terms. If there are any more issues which hon. Gentlemen care to raise, they can do so now or by correspondence, and I shall do my best to answer their queries.

11.49 p.m.

Mr. Higgins

I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's view that the events of yesterday were necessarily unfortunate. What was unfortunate was that two quite separate issues became confused. On the one hand, there was a debate on various Amendments which we were considering. On the other hand, there were some very important procedural innovations whereby an important matter was dealt with without there being any quorum rule at all. I think that my hon. Friends were justifiably incensed about these innovations, but I agree with the Minister that it was unfortunate that these became entangled with the discussion on the specific points which were raised in Committe.

I want to make one or two points in response to the Minister's invitation. In particular, I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very full way in which he has replied to a number of points which my hon. Friends and I raised during the Second Reading debate by writing to them. We are grateful to him for the manner in which he has answered the various matters which were raised, in particular the matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells).

There are one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman made in a letter which he was kind enough to write to me which I think deserve to be mentioned, and also one or two which have arisen spontaneously as we have considered the various aspects of the Bill.

One of these was prompted by the excellent document which has now appeared in the Library, I imagine at the instigation of the Board of Trade, a survey by the Port of London Authority concerning Britain's foreign trade which is very relevant to the matter we are considering, and which gives figures and regional destinations of imports and exports which have hitherto not to my knowledge been available. On a previous occasion I had reason to need figures of this kind, but they were not in existence.

With regard to the proposals for container traffic, does the Bill cover export credit guarantees on containers? This is undoubtedly a growth sector of the economy and something about which I am sure the Board of Trade is concerned.

I turn now to the specific points which come up in the Minister's letter. In cooperation with one of his right hon. Friends the Minister wrote to me about the change which has been introduced with regard to aid. The Minister said that although aid would now be considered by the Ministry of Overseas Development and that the policy of the Government was being centralised, none the less Section 3 of the parent Act—and this Bill increases the limits—would remain in existence. During the Second Reading debate we suggested that there was a case for transferring the whole matter to the Ministry of Overseas Development.

The Minister said in his letter: We do not think there would be any virtue in transferring credits already given under section 3 to the Ministry of Overseas Development; this would be a complex operation from the legal and accounting point of view and would not serve a useful purpose. The present position is straightforward and should not give rise to any difficulty: outstanding Section 3 credits, which figure as liabilities in the E.C.G.D.'s books (but separately from, not in the accounts relating to credit insurance opera- tions), will be gradually reduced and finally eliminated as repayments are received. The right hon. Gentleman went on to explain the loans which had been given to overseas countries under this procedure.

Mr. Darling

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not want to stop him discussing Section 3 of the main Act, but there is nothing in this Bill about Section 3 of the Act and I understood that on Third Reading we could discuss only the things in the Bill.

Mr. Higgins

I accept that. The point which I want to make is that the Bill increases the limits and there has been a change so far as the Government are concerned which alters the position with regard to Section 3.

Why are the Government certain that we should extend the financial limits to cover Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the parent Act? Would it not have been much more convenient to transfer responsibility for section 3 covering aid to the Ministry of Overseas Development? As I understand it, the repayments which now come in and which are affected by limits imposed by the Bill will go back to the Export Credits Guarantee Department, and will then be refunded to the Treasury. Would it not be better for the Ministry of Overseas Development to take over the whole operation, when the funds would presumably go back to that Ministry and be reallocated in the aid programme?

I am not clear why the Minister does not feel that this would be a more convenient arrangement than that which he is proposing. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and I feel that it could be a much better arrangement to centralise this in accordance with the Government's own policy.

11.56 p.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

To intervene in a Third Reading debate just before midnight is always a dangerous thing to do, but I hope the Minister will bear with me. This morning I read that an interesting debate took place between 11 a.m. and 11.30 a.m. yesterday morning and that there were particularly interesting contributions by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). During that time there was a reference to the American A.I.D. Department and the sort of assistance given by the equivalent Department to the Export Credits Guarantee Department in the United States. We now have an opportunity of debating that issue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. That is outside the scope of the Third Reading debate.

Mr. Osborn

I have to be guided by you entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but surely something which was discussed on a Clause in Committee is relevant to our discussion now.

Mr. Darling

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Amendment that gave rise to that discussion was withdrawn. It is not in the Bill, and in view of that fact I feel that it would be an imposition on the House at this time of night to debate an issue which I think—I do not know whether I am right—is completely out of order.

Mr. Osborn

The Minister of State is saying, with a certain amount of arrogance——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Whatever the language of the Minister, he was confirming the Ruling that I have given that the hon. Member's remarks were outside the scope of the Third Reading debate.

Mr. Osborn

I have to be guided by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I want some guidance how this Bill operates in extending the powers under Clauses 1 and 2, referring to commercial transactions and transactions in the national interest, respectively. The publication that I have deals with medium and long-term matters—heavy engineering loans and so on, and I was seeking clarification how these provisions would be used. If my remarks are not relevant to this debate, perhaps they could be raised in an Adjournment debate at another time.

Mr. Darling

During the discussions on this Bill I made it quite clear, time and time again, that when any Government have been asked for an increase in the insurance cover an opportunity has been given to discuss the general principles and, if there is time, some of the details. I have always said that if hon. Members have any issues of interest to raise, if they write to me I will see that they get the fullest possible information, of which they may make the fullest public use.

I suggest that it is an imposition, at the end of all these discussions, to raise issues like this at this time of night. I would also point out that, because of the way in which these matters were raised, I had to have representatives of the E.C.G.D. at my house yesterday morning to get ready for the debate. There is a limit to what I am going to take.

Mr. Osborn

I try to treat the House with the greatest courtesy, and I would not wish to be discourteous to the Minister of State, but there were lengthy debates yesterday on this——

Mr. Darling

Yes: the hon. Member should have been here.

Mr. Osborn

There have been lengthy debates on this and it is only by reading the issues raised in Committee that undoubtedly matters of great interest on policy and other issues have to be considered by the House now. I have taken part in other Third Readings and consider that it is right for matters like this to be discussed. If we cannot do this, it means that we will be gagged. The gagging of back-benchers is a new aspect of Parliament. It is something which I would accept——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Could I help the hon. Member? The only concern of the Chair is to ensure that the rules are carried out. On Third Reading, only things actually in the Bill may be discussed.

Mr. Osborn

I do not wish to argue with the Chair, but it is obviously impossible to deploy relevant arguments if the Minister of State walks out of his seat and the Chair questions points which I am trying to raise——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair is only enforcing the rules which the House itself has laid down.

Mr. Osborn

Obviously, this raises major points of principle. I have taken part in very important debates recently, particularly on the Iron and Steel Bill, and I understood that, contributions by a back-bencher who was unable to speak in the Committee were welcomed on the last stage. If not, I will withdraw the point which I wished to raise about the attitude of E.C.G.D. in supporting the export of capital goods from this country.

Mr. Darling

On a point of order. This, too, was raised on the early proceedings. This Bill has nothing to do with the insurance cover of overseas investments.

Mr. Osborn

It is the insurance cover of the capital which goes out from this country——

Mr. Darling


Mr. Osborn

Capital goods, which are all part of it.

I have been arguing for longer than I intended. It is a new slant on the conduct of Parliament. There are plenty of other opportunities to raise these issues, but it seems that Parliament is no longer the forum to raise——

Mr. Darling

The hon. Member should have been here yesterday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister of State does not apply the rules of order; the Chair does. The Chair has said that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to raise on Third Reading only matters which are in the Bill. He sought to go outside the provisions of the Bill. That is the only bar which has been put on the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Osborn

I had intended to deploy a constructive speech and I have already taken five minutes longer than I had anticipated it would take me to ask a few questions. There seems to be a general reluctance on the part of the Minister to deal with this issue and it is with a certain amount of regret that I am obliged to leave this matter until another occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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