HC Deb 24 March 1977 vol 928 cc1441-4
2. Mrs. Wise

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many copies of "Accountancy Age" are taken by his Department.

13. Mr. Rooker

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many copies of "Accountancy Age" are taken by his Department.

19. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many copies of "Accountancy Age" are taken by his Department.

20. Dr. McDonald

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many copies of "Accountancy Age" are taken by his Department.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Joel Barnett)


Mrs. Wise

Has my right hon. Friend read that one copy, and has he observed the account of the incredibly complex price-fixing agreement between the sugar refiners and the equally complex price equalisation scheme operated by the Government? While no blame apparently attaches to Tate and Lyle, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that, with all these complexities, the taxpayer's interest is being adequately safeguarded in assessing taxes and subsidies for the sugar refiners?

Mr. Barnett

I read the article about Tate and Lyle, and the Comptroller and Auditor General has reported on the case. If the Public Accounts Committee decides to report upon it to the House, I am sure that hon. Members will want to take that opportunity to discuss the matter further.

Mr. Rooker

Is it not significant that this large private enterprise company, one of the most virulent anti-nationalisation companies in the country with its Mr. Cube campaign, is only too happy to take great handouts from the State when the occasion arises so that shareholders' funds can benefit, in this case to the tune of £600 million?

Mr. Barnett

I not only read the edition of "Accountancy Age" to which my hon. Friends have referred but the following week's edition, which withdrew everything that had been said the previous week. I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend, and it is right that the taxpayer's interest should be carefully taken into account. I am sure that the Comptroller and Auditor General has done that in his report. If the PAC decides to submit the matter to the House, we shall have an opportunity to study it further.

Mr. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend consider trying to persuade Tate and Lyle to put a simple statement of the firm's financial position on its bags of sugar so that consumers can see what is going on?

Mr. Barnett

That is an interesting suggestion. I am sure that the board of Tate and Lyle will have noted it, and I hope that it will take account of it.

Dr. McDonald

Can my right hon. Friend explain to the House who bore the cost of restocking the nation's stockpile of sugar following the loans to the sugar companies, particularly Tate and Lyle? Does he agree that there are still grounds for disquiet owing to the complexity of Tate and Lyle's accounting procedures and the complexity of the issues involved? Will he ensure that, in future, Tate and Lyle presents its accounts in a simple, straightforward way in order to make clear to everyone the extent to which the firm relies on Government support?

Mr. Barnett

The presentation of public companies' accounts fascinates me every bit as much as it does my hon. Friends. I should like to see such accounts presented more simply, but at the moment there is much consideration of presenting them in, if anything, a more complex way. However, I am sure that they will be crystal clear to my hon. Friend however they are presented. On the question of who benefits, I should remind the House that some of the major beneficiaries were the developing countries, for which we ensured very generous prices.

Mr. Ridley

I declare an interest. Is it not appalling that Labour Members should indulge in accusations of guilt by association when the PAC has dismissed all the charges mentioned in this publication and The Times has categorically denied its own misleading report on the subject? Will the right hon. Gentleman deny the sort of implications that his hon. Friends are making?

Mr. Barnett

I do not propose to deny or support anything until I see the report of the PAC. That is the sensible way for the House to deal with this matter. I note the hon. Gentleman's views about guilt by association.

Mr. Pardoe

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to take this opportunity to advise companies such as Tate and Lyle which may fear nationalisation that, as long as this Parliament lasts and the agreement between the Government and the Liberal Party continues, there is no fear of any nationalisation?

Mr. Russell Kerr

Well spoken, comrade.

Mr. Barnett

I note the hon. Gentleman's views, and I am always happy to consult him on this and other matters.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it your intention in future, despite the Questions on the Order Paper, to call five Government supporters and only one supporter of this side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. Last week the same thing happened in reverse. I try to be as fair as I can, and I called two hon. Members from the Opposition Benches to put supplementary questions.