§ 4.4 pm
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the information given by the Prime Minister at Question Time about conflicts of interest and the failure of the Secretary of State for trade to take the quasi-judicial action open to him and only to him following the finding by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission that the Charter Consolidated bid for Anderson Strathclyde is against the public interest.The matter is specific. It refers to particular actions and failures to take action by the Secretary of State in discharge of his statutory duties in relation to a recommendation from a body which has found against a takeover bid from one particular company for another particular company.
The matter is important because Anderson Strathclyde is a world leader in the supply of mining machinery and the largest independent engineering employer in central Scotland. The company is highly regarded for its engineering skills and plays a key role in industrial training in Scotland generally. It is the first British engineering company to install a flexible manufacturing system—a computer-controlled system of linked machine tools—for general engineering production. The Monopolies and Mergers Commissiion has found that the efficiency of management and the quality of labour relations would be damaged by the takeover it it were allowed to go ahead.
Furthermore, the bidding company is a South African mining company. One can imagine no more inflammatory and irresponsible action than to introduce the industrial relations of Johannesburg into Motherwell.
The matter is urgent because the injudicious, if not improper, action by the Secretary of State and his failure to take action have created a situation in which, unless immediate action is now taken, the bid may go ahead and the House will be able to do nothing to stop it either before or after we return from the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the information given by the Prime Minister at Question Time about conflicts of interest and the failure of the Secretary of State for Trade to take the quasi-judical action open to him and only to him following the finding by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission that the Charter Consolidated bid for Anderson Strathclyde is against the public interest.836 As the House knows, under Standing Order No 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the order, but to give no reasons for my decision, I have given careful consideration to the representations that the hon. Member has made, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you have decided that we shall not be able to debate the matter tomorrow and given that the House rises for the Christmas Recess later this week, may I, through you, ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement to be made to the House tomorrow? I am sure that the Leader of the House, as a former Secretary of State for Trade, will realise the extreme importance of this. I hope that he will now give an assurance that there will be a statement tomorrow.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I think that it might be appropriate if the matter were considered through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for straining your patience, and that of the House. However, it has always been understood that when right hon. or hon. Gentlemen were appointed to a Government as a Minister of the Crown, either from this House or from the other place, they divested themselves of any interests that they might have held.
It came as something of a surprise to all hon. Members today to find that this does not appear to be the case now, and that Ministers of the Crown can hold an interest and pass the responsibilities that they have to other Ministers to deal with if their interests come in conflict with the matter under discussion.
The Leader of the House has made a statement that this matter should be discussed through the usual channels, and I seek only to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the serious problem that has now arisen. When this matter is discussed and the Leader of the House is in a position to make a statement to the House, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the House whether the rules have now been changed and Ministers of the Crown can retain their interests and pass their responsibilities down. If that is the position, the House and the country should be aware of it.