HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1018-20
40. Mr. George Cunningham

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what formal inquiries are to be conducted into the affairs of the Crown Agents to establish responsibility for the situation revealed in her statement of 18th December.

Mr. John Grant

The present position is that the Government await the report from the Chairman of the Crown Agents to which my right hon. Friend referred in her statement of 18th December. My right hon. Friend intends to make a further announcement after that.

Mr. Cunningham

Does my hon. Friend recall that in her statement of 18th December his right hon. Friend said that she would be considering what form any further inquiry would take? Will he tell us something about the form of the inquiry even if he cannot say anything about its timing at this stage? Without asking my hon. Friend to comment on Press reports over the weekend, may I ask him to confirm that a member of the staff of the Crown Agents has been suspended pending investigation and that certain papers are being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions?

Mr. Grant

Yes. To the first part of my hon. Friend's question I cannot add to what I have already said. I think that my hon. Friend will give credit to my right hon. Friend for the diligence with which she has pursued the whole matter of the Crown Agents, both in opposition and in government. I think my hon. Friend will accept that she will take the right decision at the right time and that she will keep the House fully informed.

Secondly, I can confirm that a member of the Crown Agents staff has been suspended and that certain papers have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Board of the Crown Agents. I cannot comment on the nature of those papers or on the name of any individual involved.

Mr. Dykes

I appreciate the efforts of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I once wrongly described him as exaggerating this whole affair. I hope he will accept that I withdraw that suggestion. Does the Minister agree that on 18th December his right hon. Friend made it clear that there was no question of criminal charges being raised?

Mr. Grant

I cannot add in that respect to what I have already said.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend think it is about time that severer and stricter instructions were given to the Crown Agents regarding their investments? Is it not right that we should take into account a number of ventures over the past several years ranging from their investments in slum property to the ill-faced Stonehouse-Bangladesh venture and the recent developments that have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham)? Will he give an assurance that following these developments instructions will be given on future investments?

Mr. Grant

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that there is considerable change in this respect—that the new board she appointed will act in accordance with her directives. She explained in her statement of 31st July that the board would be responsible to her for the organisation and general administration of the Crown Agents' business. She has, of course, reserved the right to give it further directives from time to time.