HC Deb 09 November 1982 vol 31 cc444-5 4.35 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns the imminent sale of Britoil shares, the sale of national assets. The Department of Energy originally published an order for the transference of shares in Britoil from BNOC to the Secretary of State. We prayed against the order, and found that the Government could not proceed that way. We therefore tabled a revocation motion—which I confess was new to me—in good faith, and that motion was accepted.

However, the Department decided that no revocation motion is valid. So there is no procedure under the Act by which we can raise the matter—the end of the matter, as it were—arising from the legislation in the House, despite the assurances—general assurances, I accept—that were made about accountability during the passage of the Bill.

As you may recall, Mr. Speaker, I asked for a Standing Order No. 9 debate. I raised the various issues, which I shall not go into now, which should be reported to the House, leading to a discussion before the sale of the shares. In your wisdom, you did not accept that. The following week—on 18 November, I think—the Secretary of State made a statement. He listened to us, but he gave us no information about the issues and the method of sale. The final decision was not delayed. There is a written question today, which to some extent prompts me to raise the matter now, to ask the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is now able to make a statement about the method of sale of shares in Britoil and the timing of the sale". Because of its nature and the manner in which a written answer is reported to the House, we do not regard it as a proper method of parliamentary accountability.

I understand from press circles that tomorrow there is to be a press conference, when all will be revealed. The Minister and the chairman of Britoil will talk to the press. Whether there is a press conference is a matter for the Secretary of State, but information on a matter as important as this, the sale of national resources, should be given to the House. A full statement should be made to the House, giving all the information that will be made available to the City tomorrow morning, or whenever it is. This is a matter of vital concern for the people of this country, and this House should be given the information. We cannot wait for a press conference and read the information in the newspapers. This House should have a full statement about the sale of Britoil. The way in which the Secretary of State is proceeding does not meet the needs of the House. I therefore seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, about how to get the information which at the moment will be given only to the press.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman has outlined the problem.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)


Mr. Speaker

Does the Leader of the House wish to catch my eye?

Mr. Biffen

Within the rather narrow constraints of points of order procedure, it may help if I say that my right hon. Friend told the House in October that the flotation of Britoil would take place this month, if market conditions permitted. I recognise the anxiety that is felt by right hon. and hon. Members about being kept informed of developments, as exemplified by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), and I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy intends to make a further statement tomorrow, and certainly ahead of any press conference.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to say any more.