HC Deb 05 December 1983 vol 50 cc16-7
71. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the options for the future of the Crown Agents, before any decision on their future is taken by the Government.

Mr. Raison

The loss by the Crown Agents of the investment management of the Government of Brunei's funds has resulted in a substantial reduction in their income. The board of Crown Agents, after thorough examination of the options, including closure, submitted to Government proposals for substantial reorganisation to enable them to achieve financial viability. I hope we shall be able to reach a decision very shortly.

Mr. Fisher

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement to the House so that we can consider the options before the Government make a decision? When he makes such a statement, will he make clear and acknowledge the vital role that the Crown Agents play in our export business? They handle 70,000 orders a year which, last year, were worth £300 million. Does he agree that they have a fine record, which we must do our best to protect?

Mr. Raison

I certainly intend that the House should be informed of the decision when it is made. How it is informed is a matter to be settled at the time. The facts that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned form part of the consideration of this difficult matter.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that no one else can do what the Crown Agents do today without many years of preparation?

Mr. Raison

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. That is one of the facts that must be taken into careful consideration.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister also take into consideration the fact that some of us have somewhat different views about the Crown Agents, as a result of their practice during the past decade or more? If the Crown Agents' debt is to be written off again—the second time in less than 10 years—will the Minister convey to them the fact that there wll be no more meddling in property or setting up of nice little organisations on the side so that they can speculate at will with someone else's money and then ask the British taxpayer to bail them out? I am sure that the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends do not favour that. Will he ensure that they do the job that they are supposed to do?

Mr. Raison

Of course I am anxious that they should do the job that they are supposed to do. Because things went wrong in the 1960s and the 1970s, that does not mean that the same thing is happening now.

Mr. Lawler

I do not often find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). However, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, among the options that are being considered is the abolition, or at least the hiving-off to the private sector, of many of the Crown Agents' activities? Will such an option form part of my right hon. Friend's review?

Mr. Raison

Yes. As I said in an earlier reply, that possibility is being considered.

Mr. Stuart Holland

The Minister will be aware that there is considerable anxiety about the Crown Agents' record and about their future. Can he make a statement about the options that the Government are considering before a decision is taken so that the House can properly consider and express its view on them?

Mr. Raison

I cannot go beyond the reply that I have already given on this matter.

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