HC Deb 06 November 1968 vol 772 cc867-8
11. Mr. Sheldon

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he proposes to take in the News of the World take-over bid.

54. Mr. Barnett

asked the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to use his powers under the Monopolies and Mergers Act in connection with the takeover bid for the News of the World; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

On the information at present available, I have decided not to make a reference to the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Sheldon

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Take-over Panel has been completely discredited by the events of the past few days? Can he say why the panel allowed Hambros to purchase shares at 50s. when previously Hambros had thought that 28s. was the maximum price it could pay? Since my right hon. Friend has responsibility for the High Street market, why cannot he take responsibility for the stock market also?

Mr. Crosland

I do regard myself as being responsible in the last resort for protecting the interests of shareholders, particularly the growing number of small shareholders who do not have merchant banks or others to advise them. I accept that this must ultimately be my responsibility. My hon. Friend is right to say that recent events have given rise to acute anxiety and disquiet. I have discussed them with the Governor of the Bank of England. At present the City authorities and the Board of Trade are jointly considering the future of the panel and the take-over code, and any penalities under the code. Until those discussions are complete, I should not like to make any more definite statement.

Mr. Barnett

Will my right hon. Friend at least take the opportunity of ensuring that the small shareholder has a fair opportunity to decide between the two relevant bids? Will he tell the House what representations he has received from the Opposition, who are extremely interested, as we all are, in ensuring maximum savings, which need the good will of shareholders investing in equities?

Mr. Crosland

I am not conscious of having received any representations from the Opposition on this matter. I do not propose to intervene in the situation which my hon. Friend has in mind. On the more general question, if a voluntary system can be made to work it has obvious advantages for everyone, but if a voluntary system, even if reformed in the way that a number of people would like to see it reformed, fails to work again the Government must accept their responsibility, as I would. I would not hesitate then to take statutory powers.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Why is the right hon. Gentleman shelving his responsibilities? Surely the events of recent months have shown that he should have taken action, rather than look at the matter now when it is closed?

Mr. Crosland

I am interested that it is the Opposition who are pressing to take legislative action in the matter, and I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's attitude. Since the Government and the City are now working on a new code, and possibly a revised panel, it is right to await the outcome of those discussions before deciding whether Government action is necessary.

Sir A. V. Harvey

On a point of order. May I have your protection, Mr. Speaker. I asked a supplementary question, and the right hon. Gentleman deliberately misconstrued what I said.

Mr. Speaker

Order. How a Minister answers questions is not a matter for the Chair.