HC Deb 01 February 1968 vol 757 cc1696-700

Queen's Recommendation having been signified —

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to authorise the provision of financial support, pursuant to schemes laid before Parliament, for industrial projects calculated to improve efficiency, create, expand or sustain productive capacity or promote or support technological improvements, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of

  1. (a) expenditure under industrial investment schemes by authorities authorised by the said Act to make them, subject to the limitation that the aggregate amount of such expenditure (excluding expenditure in fulfilling guarantees of the payment of 1697 interest) shall not exceed £100 million or such greater amount not exceeding £150 million as may be provided by order;
  2. (b) any expenditure of the Minister of Technology in connection with any committee appointed under the said Act to perform functions in relation to such schemes as aforesaid, and any expenses of any such committee or any body authorised by or under the said Act to perform functions in relation to such schemes or any such scheme;
  3. (c) any expenditure of the Board of Trade, not exceeding £24 million, in making loans for purposes of or connected with the construction or introduction into service of the liner Queen Elizabeth 2;
  4. (d) any increase in the sums so payable under the Shipbuilding Industry Act 1967 which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session raising to 420 million the limit on grants under section 3 of the said Act of 1967 or otherwise amending that section;
  5. (e) any increase in the sums so payable under the Development of Inventions Act 1967 which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session raising to £50 million the limit on outstanding a ivances under section 7 of the said Act of 1967;
  6. (f) any increase in the expenditure of any Minister or government department which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session amending or modifying the Ministry of Supply Act 1939 or section 1 of the Civil Aviation Act 1949;
and to authorise the payment into the Exchequer of any sums required to be so paid by the said Act of the present Session.— [Mr. Bent.)

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and I asked the Government to explain how the borrowing powers under the Bill fit into the assurance given to the International Monetary Fund that the borrowing powers would be kept under £1,000 million this year. We have had no answer, and we should like to have one. Secondly, we should like a completely clear picture about the implications of the total borrowing requirements of the Bill in the light of the ambiguity admitted by the Minister of Technology when we questioned him.

The Bill allows the Government to spend, not £100 million plus £50 million by affirmative Resolution, but £100 million, plus £50 million, plus £15 million, plus £1 million, plus £7 million for Cunard, plus £15 million under the Shipbuilding Industry Act, plus an unknown amount for Concorde. Would one of the Ministers tell us what the bill will add up to in total borrowing power—it is considerably more than £100 million on the face of it —and how it fits in with the assurance given to Mr. Schweitzer in the Letter of Intent?

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

First, it makes no difference and does not modify the Letter of Intent sent by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that I had admitted that there was an ambiguity. I did not. I drew attention to an error in a newspaper report about the Bill. There is no ambiguity in the Bill; it has been made absolutely clear.

The main part of the Bill sets a ceiling of £100 million which could be raised, if the House wished, by Order to £150 million. This section of the Bill provides for no expenditure whatsoever, but gives the Government the power to seek authority from the House for expenditure. That disposes of what one might call the industrial investment schemes.

On N.R.D.C., it raises the borrowing ceiling from £25 million to £50 million. Here one is talking not about a ceiling but, in real terms, about the rate of expenditure by N.R.D.C. which has been running at about £5 million a year. On the question of shipbuilding, it gives power to me, subject to the advice of the Shipbuilding Industry Board, to raise the amount of money for grants from £5 million to £15 million, but the rate of spend is what is involved. We shall discuss how this operates in Committee. The provision concerning Cunard similarly is for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Finally. there is Beagle.

Of all those items over and above the industrial investment schemes, each of which requires specific Parliamentary authority, one is talking about the £25 million for N.R.D.C., £15 million for shipbuilding and £24 million for Cunard and Beagle. This makes no difference to the letter of intent. It is conditioned by the rate of spend.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the Concorde financing. My answer must be the same as that which I gave in the House, namely, that when I am in a position to come forward with a Concorde Clause I shall make a statement to the House. There will be a separate Money Resolution covering that Clause, and I will deal with any questions about that when they arise.

Sir K. Joseph

May we have an assurance that the Committee stage will not be started until the House has had ample time to digest the Money Resolution and the information given by the Minister about Concorde? Surely we cannot have that in the middle of the Committee stage?

Mr. Benn

The right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to raise that matter during the Second Reading of the Bill. I said to the House—and this has been widely known for some time—that the financing of Concorde would require legislative cover, that the negotiations and discussions about this have been going on, and that I was not in a position to table a Clause on the Concorde financing in the Bill but I should make a statement to the House and that the House would have an opportunity for a debate on the Money Resolution and the Clause would go forward to the Committee stage. I do not see why consideration of the Bill in Committee on the Clauses which do not concern Concorde can possibly be delayed by the fact that later there would be a discussion on the Concorde issue.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

With regard to the borrowing powers being given and the vast sums of money involved, I gather that the Minister has undertaken to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) that he will prepare some answers to questions which he has not been able to answer in the debate before the Committee stage is reached. Will he be in a position then to let us know what is to happen to the Consett Iron and Steel Company ——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not exactly on this Resolution.

Dame Irene Ward

No, I know that it is not.

Sir K. Joseph

With the leave of the House, we have had an assurance —

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a multipilicity of speeches to be made from the two Front Benches? We are not in Committee.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's confirmation of Mr. Speaker's Ruling. A second speech is made by leave of the House. I think that the House would give it on this occasion.

Sir K. Joseph

By leave of the House, I press the Minister of Technology to give us an assurance that he will do his best to give the House the information about the Concorde before the Committee stage begins.

Mr. Benn

This is really a matter involving the business of the House [HON. MEMBERS: "By leave of the House."]—by leave of the House, if the House wants an answer. I have said that I will bring it forward as soon as I am in a position to do so. But I could not accept that a discussion about the earlier Clauses of the Bill which do not concern Concorde could necessarily be affected by this other simultaneous discussion. If it were thought in Committee that it was a barrier, no doubt the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) would make a case for it in Committee.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I want to press the Government further on the Concorde Clause. What will happen if the Committee stage is concluded before the Government are ready with their financial proposals?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister does not need the leave of the House if he wishes to speak.

Mr. Benn

If I may have the leave of the House again, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) is asking a question about the Money Resolution which is not before the House, namely, that which will accompany the Concorde Clause. In view of the doubt about the project which such a question raises, it is proper to say that it is our belief and intention that the Clause will be brought in time for the Committee stage of the Bill. I think that the hon. Gentleman has no reason to be anxious on that score.

Question put and agreed to.

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