§ POWER OF BOARD TO ACQUIRE SHARES IN CERTAIN COMPANIES
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 15, leave out ' the Treasury and'.
My interest in this Bill started when I was a member of the Estimates Committee and we had to look into the fishing industry in the Highlands and Islands. I was impressed with what I saw on the West Coast but nothing like so much as by what I saw in the City of Aberdeen. Having gone into the Cairngorms on a sporting skiing contest for this House, I wanted to satisfy myself about the right of sporting interests. I was concerned to find that 19 different authorities were interested in skiing. I want to be sure that smaller firms, while remaining master in their own affairs, but having had money lent to them, will not be 1138 taken over by the Board. It seems extraordinary that the words "the Treasury and" should be included.
This is not a very big operation, but I take it that it is meant to do good to smaller firms in the Highlands and Islands. Has everything to be referred back to the Treasury in Whitehall? Is this not exactly what the whole of the British people, in various ways, are in revolt against—control and exercise of authority at the centre? The Secretary of State for Scotland is the head of a Department. If he is not to have authority in this field we shall make ourselves entirely ridiculous.
I do not see why it should be referred back to the Treasury in London. As the sponsor of the Bill said, the Board is to be autonomous, so why should the Treasury be brought in? I dislike to see Private Members' Bills increasing power at the centre. I do not wish the sponsor ill for he is intending to do something to help smaller businesses, but I am worried about this proposal. I am afraid that the Treasury would take a much harsher view than would the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
I want to ask only one question, which can be replied to by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Why was it necessary in the first place to put in "the Treasury"? Surely the Secretary of State for Scotland is part of the Government and the Government act together, or one hopes that they do. That may sometimes appear doubtful, but what is the point of putting in "the Treasury" in this context? If there is no point in doing so, would it not be better to leave it out? I hope that the hon. Member who is promoting this very useful Bill will consider accepting the Amendment and leaving out "the Treasury".
§ Mr. Maclennan
Hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment will be as well, if not better than, aware as I am that this point received a great deal of discussion during the passage of the 1965 Act. It occupied a considerable amount of time in most stages of that Bill's progress.
I again remind the House that the intention of my Bill is to simplify the powers of the Highlands and Islands Development Board to give assistance to 1139 needy firms or businesses in the Highlands operating for the benefit of the Highlands. It is not my intention to amend the parent Act of 1965 in any restrictive way or to introduce a fundamental change in the operation of the Board. If I accepted this Amendment it would have very wide consequences which would run counter to the principles embodied in the 1965 Act.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) will recall that Section 6 of the 1965 Act empowers the Board to carry on a business only with the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Treasury. The inclusion of the Treasury was fully debated in 1965. The powers in Clause 1 of the Bill give no extension of the powers conferred on the Board by Section 6. They are granted subject to precisely the same conditions.
It seems clear that the arguments which prevailed in 1965 that it is imperative in the general interest of the public purse being safeguarded along with Scottish interests, should prevail today. Consequently I must ask the House to reject the Amendment. I reinforce and accept the expression of irritation by the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) about the dead hand of the Treasury, as it is sometimes called, but in the operations of the Highlands and Islands Development Board this condition has not operated oppressively. In the two years of the Board's operation that safeguard for the public purse has not acted contrary to the interests of the Highlands and Islands.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, the chief sponsor of the Bill has referred to the irritation expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). Year after year in Committee on such Bills I, too, have moved this type of Amendment, because there is always such a sense of needless waste of time in this reference back. With long delays and ever mounting costs. Everyone is irritated by this routine. If I thought that by voting the Amendment into the Bill it would have a wider impact than merely on this Measure and the original Act and other 1140 Measures, I would be anxious to press the hon. and gallant Member for Eye to lead us into the Lobby. The arguments in favour of the Amendment were strongly advanced in reply to another Amendment a little earlier by the Minister of State. He talked about the importance of the Board having a free hand. Another hon. Member said that not only must the Board be free to act, but that it must be seen to be free. Every one of the arguments adduced in support of giving the Board a free hand can be adduced in support of the Amendment.
Further, the argument that we would be strengthening the finality of decision of the Secretary of State on appeal is itself rather attractive to all Scottish Members. It has now apparently become attractive to English Members also, which is a good sign in these days.
There are two points about this. I, or anybody else requiring financial assistance for a project in the Highlands and Islands, can go direct either to the Board of Trade or to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. The Minister emphasised the independence, the very large measure of autonomy enjoyed by the Board of Trade agency—the Treasury agency, if you like. That is slightly different, because there is a much more direct relationship with the Government and the Treasury itself in that case than there is in the case of the agency created to help us in the Highlands and Islands—the Highlands and Islands Development Board. The Board, to which one can go instead of going to the Board of Trade for a similar type of assistance, is not in anything like the same relationship with the Treasury as is B.O.T.A.C. Nevertheless, it is open to applicants to apply either to the Board of Trade and have the matter vetted there or to go direct to the Highlands and Islands Development Board for the same facilities.
The more freedom of action that can be given, not only to the Secretary of State as the final arbiter, but to the Board itself as far as possible, the greater the sense will be of a certain amount of regional independence and autonomy. This is what everybody seems to want the Board to have, except when it comes to sums of money above a certain very high level. At that point of exceptionally large sums, there is an impact on Government policy and financial capacity. The 1141 Secretary of State himself is not final, and he has to go back to the Treasury. But in minor financial schemes reference back is highly irritating. The project is examined, not only in financial detail, but very often in technical detail if it involves technical considerations as well, for which the Treasury is not always the best equipped authority. And the whole process is often repeated. On the financial side, I would not argue with the use of the Treasury where very large sums are involved. On the technical side, it seems at times a little anomalous and unreal.
The Development Board's proposals from day to day should go even to the Secretary of State only exceptionally and only when very large sums of money are involved, involving considerations of public policy. Indeed once the global sums for Scottish needs have been allocated—I have argued this case many, many times here—for goodness' sake let us give the greatest possible freedom to the Scottish Office and its agencies for the distribution and use of the money which has been voted by Parliament, which should be paramount and final in this, instead of so many of these projects being referred back to the Treasury. It seems always wrong that schemes of relatively moderate amount go right back beyond the Secretary of State and, even, the House of Commons and its decisions on Supply, which is the oldest and most important, in many ways, of the functions of the House of Commons, to the Treasury, which was very much of an afterthought in Parliamentary terms and history compared with the rights of the House to allocate Supply as and when it sees fit.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I endorse all that my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) has said. This is a very unusual instrument of government. I do not think that there is any other part of Western Europe which has seen the introduction of an instrument of government like this. Perhaps the nearest parallel would be in Southern Italy. I cannot think of the actual constitution of the board there and its relationship with the Italian Parliament being on all-fours with ours.
As was made evident in our discussions on new Clause 2 concerning the right of appeal, on the question of accountability I am sure that the House 1142 of Commons would not wish in any way to erode the rights of the Committee on Public Accounts. The Accounting Officer here is the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, acting through the Secretary of State. The Department would have to appear before the Committee and it would have to account, not only for large sums, but for every penny that is spent. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) would be the first to insist that a Member, and not neces-sairly a Scottish Member, has the right to ask why certain moneys were spent in certain ways by certain Departments, even though the Department concerned has a peculiar attachment in the form of a board of this type as one of its spending agencies.
A balance must be drawn between the interests and the rights of the House of Commons and the taxpayer generally, on the one hand, and the operations of the Board, on the other. This is a matter of practice that I hinted at on the new Clause in relation to the independence of the Board in respect of persons. Now I am arguing the same thing in relation to the independence of the Board in respect of moneys. It is fair and proper that it should be as free as it can be. However, in the last analysis as the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his long experience as a supporter of the previous Government and as a very distinguished Whip, knows, there must be a balance. The theory of it must be preserved always, namely, that the Secretary of State and the Treasury are responsible for everything, even though they do not have a sight of all that is brought before the Board. This is perfectly true.
I confess to the House that much of the Board's work goes on without reference to the Secretary of State in Edinburgh, never mind the Treasury in London. Much of the work goes on in that way, and we have no reason to complain about that I readily confess, too, that a mistake is made by the Board now and then. We are rebuked for this in public. I only wish that the Board was praised for all the good things that it does, but that is not in the nature of life.
Although the Amendment is tempting, to accept it would reopen all the issues which we debated in 1965. I counsel the House not to accept it. I have in my 1143 mind's eye a picture of the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) galloping along on two horses—new Clause 2 and the Amendment. He does this very successfully. As Jimmy Maxton once said, if a person cannot do that he should not be in the circus at all. I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on wanting to be on both sides of the argument. I hope that he will not press his point too hard.
§ Sir H. Harrison
I have listened to what the sponsor and the Minister of State have said. We could continue this argument for a long time. I believe that there will have to be a great deal of rethinking about this in the House. In view of what has been said, I do not think that I should be able to carry the Amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
May I express to the House my satisfaction that so many hon. Members have seen fit to contribute to the debates during the passage of the Bill through the House. It has been a matter of some surprise, perhaps, that even at this late stage of the Bill's progress interest has been expressed by hon. Members from south of the Border and, indeed, from Northern Ireland, in the affairs of the Highlands and Islands. I have no doubt that this will be a matter of satisfaction throughout the Highlands and Islands.
I will not weary the House, as there are other important Measures to be considered, by repeating the general arguments in favour of the Bill. I believe that the Bill will go far to assist the Board in the general function it has been given of improving the economic condition of half of Scotland, that half for which it has the prime responsibility under the Government.
This Measure was conceived as a clarification and, indeed, in some minor respects, as an amplification of the powers which the Board was given by the 1965 Act. I welcome the debate which has thrown light on the operations of the Board in its grants and loans 1144 scheme and in the whole range of activities which it has promoted with such considerable and acknowledged success in the course of the last two years.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on presenting it and carrying it through. My interest is that my mother came from Ayrshire and I have some interest in the Highlands themselves, particularly Skye and the area around the Cuillin Mountains.
I hope that the Bill will help in that area, but I offer one word of warning. I hope that matters will not develop in such a way as to damage the great natural beauty of the area. I think of such a place as Loch Coruisk in the heart of the Black Cuillins. It would be disastrous if it did not remain as it is today.
I shall take up no more of the time of the House. I welcome the Bill and believe that it will be very helpful. I am glad that the Minister of State should think that I ride horses. In fact, I do not, but I shall try to learn, with his help.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
I welcome the Bill and compliment the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on introducing it. Liberals have a special interest in the Highlands and Islands Development Board, and we are always anxious to help it and make it a more effective instrument.
Certain people in my constituency have expressed concern about one or two aspects of the Board's work as it will be under the Bill. I refer, first, to the position of small businesses in the Highlands which have been carrying on for a long time without Government help. It is felt that they might suffer in competition with new businesses set up with substantial Government help. I understand that the Board welcomes the Bill. During the two and a half years of its existence, it has learnt a great deal about conditions in the Highlands, and I urge that it uses its discretion, always safeguarding the interests of smaller enterprises which have been carrying on there for a long time.
The other question is whether it would be possible to appeal to the Secretary of 1145 State when an application for a grant or loan is turned down. I believe that it would complicate matters if there were such an appeal. Notwithstanding the good work done by the Board, I, like my hon. Friends and other hon. Members in the Highlands, have a good many people coming to me after their requests have been turned down, and I should not like to have to adjudicate in that way. I would say, therefore, that the present set-up is right, with the Board having the last word in deciding whether an application should be granted.
§ 2.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
This is not a Bill which I can welcome or wish success to, for two reasons. There is no limit in the Bill on the funds which may be used. It is extraordinary that the House of Commons, however reduced in size today, can give carte blanche approval to the expenditure of apparently unlimited funds to further State holding in various enterprises in the Highlands and Islands. That is one reason why I do not support the Bill.
The Minister of State said that there were expert consultants available to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I am glad to hear it. If the Bill goes through and the Board receives the wide powers it is seeking, it will have opportunity to acquire great blocks of equity shares. It may even, by mistake or design, acquire control of enterprises which need expert business knowledge if the Government management, directed through the Board, is to be successful.
Chiefly, I object to the Bill on principle. The Government have so knocked private industry about in the Highlands and Islands, as they have in the whole country, as to make many private enterprises almost semi-conscious by the successive burdens of new taxation which they have imposed, thus rendering them easily susceptible to State interference. For instance, in the Highlands and Islands grave concern has been caused by the Selective Employment Tax. It has hit the tourist trade, it has hit hotel businesses—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. It is not possible to discuss the: Selective Employment Tax on this Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are now on the Third Reading of the Bill, and Third Reading debates are limited to the contents of the Bill under discussion.
§ Mr. Farr
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but one of the reasons why the Board will find it easier to acquire many businesses in the Highlands and Islands is that— this applies particularly to hotels—they have been put in a very difficult position by the succession of harsh measures introduced in the last two Budgets, including the Selective Employment Tax, which have made it practically impossible to run a private industry or hotel business profitably in the Highland area or in many parts of Scotland.
Private industry has been softened up by the present Government so that the Highlands and Islands Development Board may move in. I do not relish that at all. The Bill gives apparently unlimited power of investment to the Board, and I fear that this pattern may well be the pattern for the eventual development of rural development boards which the Government have set up in different parts of England. For instance, in the Peak District of Derbyshire there is a rural development board feeling its way and still taking on new powers to acquire businesses and to buy up and carry on farms. I fear that the pattern of progress under this Bill in acquiring private enterprises which have been softened up by penal taxation may well be the pattern of development which we shall see continued in other parts of the country by the rural development boards.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on introducing the Bill, though I disapprove of it for those reasons. If the Government would get off the back of private business and industry in Scotland, private enterprise would be able to fight its own battles.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) feels some concern 1147 about the matters of which he has spoken, but, if he had had the advantage of being present at all our discussions not only on this Bill but on the Bill in 1965, he would have found that we were able to go into many of the points on which he has fears and ensure that the position was safeguarded. I am sorry that he was not able to take part in all those discussions. If he had been present, he would, I think, have felt more reassured than he is today.
The Bill makes clear that the Board may help to promote industrial activity in the Highland area by the method set out in it. It seems that some circumstance could arise in which this would be the most appropriate way of helping an enterprise. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has said in Committee that this was likely to happen infrequently.
The important point is how the power will be used. All the discussions we have had have concentrated on how the Board will operate this system in circumstances which could be foreseen. I am sure that hon. Members will be keeping a close eye on how the power is used. Certainly my hon. Friends will.
The hon. Gentleman has found that he has had very much longer stages to deal with than a private Member normally has when piloting a Bill through. I congratulate him on the way he has done so. He has been on duty for very long periods of time. As the Bill is now likely to be approved, I hope that he will feel gratified to know that we appreciate his helpfulness in explaining the many points we have raised at various stages.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
For over nine years, before 1964 and afterwards, I was denied the right to introduce a Private Member's Bill, although I entered every Ballot. Therefore, I think I am right to be a little jealous of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) who is introducing his second Private Member's Bill in barely 3½ years' membership of the House. His other Bill affected a great international industry, and this one is of great significance to his own constituency and the whole of Scotland. Indeed, we learn from 1148 the comments of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that it is of significance for parts of England and Wales which may be affected by the inauguration of rural development boards. I shall look with interest at their emergence in the way he describes. I did not realise that they had such extensive powers.
I do not accept some of the hon. Gentleman's strictures on the Bill. He is wrong when he says that the Highlands and Islands Development Board has caused suffering to private enterprise. Every hon. Member from the Highlands area would testify that that is not true. On the contrary, it has helped many firms. Some have gone to the wall because the power in the Bill was not properly laid down in the original Act. The value of this amending Bill is that it gives a power to the Board that it wants and needs, and that private industry in the Highlands will welcome.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
If I heard my hon. Friend aright, he was complaining about Government measures such as the Selective Employment Tax, which he complained had damaged industry in the area.
§ Dr. Mabon
If the hon. Gentlemen is good enough to read Hansard tomorow, he will see what the hon. Gentleman said, particularly at the beginning of his speech, when he gave the fundamental objections he had to the Bill—though it is a measure of his generosity that he nevertheless congratulated my hon. Friend on the hard work he had put in to get the Bill so far. He did not like some of the principal activities provided for by this amending legislation, and he is entitled to his opinion.
The Bill is very much concerned with the generation of new business as well as sustaining old business in the Highlands. As I hope the House may debate some time, the Board can tell a very good story of achievement in relation to hotels, and an exemplary scheme for the development of hotels in Scotland is beginning which might well be copied elsewhere. We had the background in the White Paper, which is allied to what the Board is doing on the development of hotels. The hon. Member for Harborough should be delighted that the Board will be able to conduct its business even better with the knowledge that the concessions in 1149 Schedule 17 of the Finance Bill apply to a great number of hotels in the Highland area. Therefore, his primary objections to the Bill are perhaps not quite as solid as he might imagine. When the Annual Report of the Board is published very shortly he will be able to read the story of a great deal of achievement that will perhaps put at rest the fears he expressed. I am sure that he will not take his fears to the point of voting against the Bill in view of the hard work that has been put into getting it so far.
I congratulate my hon. Friend again. He has had a very, difficult furrow to hoe today and on the previous stages. He has given us fair warning that if another place can extend the scope of the Bill we might have another stage before we can see it safely onto the Statute Book. I hope that the good will we have had from so many hon. Members on both sides of the House will see us safely through to the end.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
If I introduce a slightly discordant note, it will not be so discordant as to prevent me congratulating the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on his good fortune in the ballot, and for introducing a Bill designed to help a part of Scotland with which he is concerned.
My anxiety about the Bill is one of general principle. It extends yet again the power of the State or its organs to participate in the equity capital—the risk capital and controlling capital—of private companies. We are reaching the point of becoming respectable by precedent. Hon. Members look back and say that this and that has been done on a number of previous occasions and ask if one is to deny the Highlands and Islands of Scotland the alleged advantage of the process which has taken place before. The difficulty is that this kind of process goes on and gradually develops consequences which are unforeseen by at least some of those who propose it in each particular case.
I am afraid that I am one of those Highlanders who have taken the road to England. Nevertheless, I derive from not all that far back from the Western Highlands of Scotland, those Highlands and Islands which the Bill is intended 1150 to benefit, and I belong very self-consciously to that part of the world, although I am now detached and certainly do not feel that my connections are sufficiently recent or contemporary to be confident enough to divide the House on the Bill. I have always regarded the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as the citadel of sturdy independence. When we wallow in the Welfare State, which is so debilitating, I like to think back to those fellow Scotsmen who in the last century preferred sometimes to die of starvation rather than take the charity and aid that was offered to them, because they believed so highly in the virtue of individual independence.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a Bill to bring the assistance of the organised State, with all its evil implications, to the benefit of the individual. To some extent one must use the organisation of the State nowadays to prime the pump in particular cases, but, while the Highlands and Islands Development Board has done good work up to now, I regret the extension of its work by participation in the controlling capital of companies in a part of the Kingdom which has been least contaminated up to now by the paternalistic activities of the State.
As I say, I do not think I have the right to carry my opposition to the Bill to the point of a Division, because I have not the present-day connection with the Highlands that would entitle me to do that and it is very hard to judge from a distance in time and space how far one is entitled to impinge upon principles in the interests of priming the pump for an area which has not shown the rapid development that other parts of the United Kingdom have.
Nevertheless, I think it right on the occasion of the Third Reading of this Bill to say that I think we all too easily and quickly accept the progressive enlargement of the function of the State in the control of private enterprise companies. I know it will be said—it has been said on this and other Bills—that the State will merely be a shareholder— it might, I suppose, appoint a director, but he will just sit and watch—and basically private enterprise will run itself. I wonder. I am sure it will start like that, but I wonder whether it will go on and how far this process extends, how 1151 far one becomes accustomed to it, until in the end the vigour of private enterprise, on which the Highlands and Islands must in the end depend if they are to develop commercially, may be sapped by dependence upon aid. I have not often observed in other parts of the world to which British aid is directed that it has done much good. It ought to. Enough care is taken to ensure that the aid from the State, whether internal or external, is well used, but still it does not seem to do the trick.
This leads me to think that usually the right solution is rather assistance by way of exemption, or partial exemption, from taxes and other burdens, inducements to industrialists to go there, favourable conditions for a time when they are there. These things work better in practice than direct participation by Government money, which tends to produce units in an economy which are not viable without continued assistance. In fact, they get like the railways.
Those are the doubts that are in my mind. I thought it right to voice them. I shall not take any more of the time of the House, nor divide the House against the Bill.
§ 2.23 p.m.
Mr. Malcolm MacMUlan
As a sponsor of the Bill, I should like again to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his enterprise in introducing it and for piloting it through as successfully and intelligently as he has done. At the beginning of the Committee proceedings he excused himself as being a relatively new Member in this field. On the other hand, I think that his competence in handling the Bill in Standing Committee and here has made that apology unnecessary.
The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) introducd a jarring note as an ex-Highlander. I emphasise the prefix "ex". He did not speak for the Highlanders. He says he is a Highlander thrice removed. If he were not, I should myself be taking active steps to remove him now. He did not speak for any voice or interest in the Highlands, not even for special private interests in the Highlands, or even private enterprise in 1152 general. Private enterprise in the Highlands, such as there is of it, has never had the encouragement to develop that it has today under the Act which is being amended by this Bill. Never has it had such encouragement. Never to a large extent has it ever existed before in some places under the stewardship, or lack of stewardship, of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that I have the same interests at least as he has.
I will not join the hon. and learned Gentleman in his act of gallantly dying by proxy on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Highlanders who have been waiting for years for private enterprise to develop the Highlands. They have been permitted to die through what he miscalls independence, which meant, in past bitter experience, dying of poverty, depopulation and the effects of prolonged unemployment. We have had enough of this naive nonsense, without the hon. and learned Gentleman sentimentalising it at this distance of time. He talked today about the Highlands as "part of England". Even his very geography was wrong. For him to claim any rights as a Highland spokesman is impertinent. He speaks for nobody in the Highlands even at three generations' distance. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not also altered his clan name. I am ashamed of him today as his clansman for that speech.
The Bill will do something that the Highlands and Islands Development Board wants to be done. It has asked for it officially. It is getting it now. Private enterprise has been putting pressure on the Board to help and the Board wants to make sure that the situation is clarified. The Board will be able to proceed now, I hope, with this clarification which the Bill provides to help many companies which I am sure are extremely anxious to find the Board aiding and underwriting them in various ways.
The hon. and learned Gentleman talked about the danger of the Government management and Government intervention. He was talking for nobody that I am aware of except a small hard core of reactionaries in the Highlands. He was not speaking for the ordinary people. 1153 I know of no firm in the Highlands which will not fully accept and quickly apply for any assistance by grant or loan which any other company throughout the country will apply for.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May I ask my hon. Friend, since his Bill is now agreed, to have a little mercy on some other Bills which are to follow?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I appreciate that point and shall meet it; but a Highlands Bill comes before us only once in many years. While I sympathise with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I think he should have addressed his appeal to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) and other Members of the Liberal Party, who took up a lot of time with speeches earlier.
The concluding remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South represent nobody that I am aware of—Tory, Liberal or anybody else—in the Highlands. Everybody wants to help private enterprise in the Highlands so far as it is able now to develop with help under the Act and which it will increasingly get under the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend.
I give the Bill my blessing. I endorsed it from the start as a sponsor. More important, the people of the Highlands and Islands are indeed for it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.