HC Deb 27 October 1987 vol 121 cc203-4 5.17 pm
Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the uncertainty surrounding the sale of BP shares. The House a short time ago listened to a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he said that he could not give his decision on whether he could release the underwriters from their obligations until Thursday of this week. That means that uncertainties will continue to surround the sale of the shares until then.

This is clearly the biggest privatisation exercise to date, very likely will be the biggest flop of all, and is therefore a specific and important matter. It is urgent, because unless a debate is granted the House will be unable to respond to the invitation which the Chancellor extended that we should give him our views before he reaches a decision. Since the Chancellor deliberately extended this invitation, there ought to be an opportunity whereby the House can respond.

Some very important issues are at stake. It is likely that Britain's greatest company will have over 30 per cent. of its shares held by very unwilling underwriters. There may well be very difficult problems for many private individuals who have applied for shares as a result of the Government's extravagant advertising campaign, and who were perhaps under a misapprehension about the price of the shares for which they were applying. In view of these important factors and, above all, because the Chancellor invited our views and because it is impossible for us to express our views other than in a debate, I move this motion.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the uncertainty surrounding the sale of BP shares. I have listened with great care to what the right and hon. learned Gentleman has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised meets the criteria under which I can grant a debate under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the House have your guidance and direction as to how matters should proceed over the next few days? No one needs to tell you of the crucial importance of the issue of the BP sale, both in terms of general conduct in the markets and the implications of the sale, given the present instability of the markets. No one needs to tell you, Mr. Speaker, of the importance of this matter to several score of thousands of private individuals and the importance of the sale of a major British asset.

In those circumstances, it would appear to be appropriate for the Government, given the general instability, to come before the House voluntarily to make statements or even to initiate a debate, especially since, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said, the Chancellor made it apparent that he wanted the view—to quote him—"of right hon. and hon. Members." The Chancellor said that by Thursday the Government will make a decision. That could mean that by Friday trading will commence in these new undervalued shares. In all those circumstances, the House has had scant opportunity to make its views known. I understand that you form your judgment on applications to adjourn the House under Standing Order No. 20, and we respect it, but all I would do is ask you to give us your guidance on the kind of circumstances in which a further submission could be made, given the general urgency of the situation, and the fact that we have, at the earliest, a deadline of Thursday, and, at the latest, a deadline of Friday to record the view of this House.

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He and the House know that I am bound by criteria laid down in Standing Orders. I shall, of course, watch the continuing situation carefully. The House should bear in mind that there will be opportunities during Question Time tomorrow and again on Thursday, but I will certainly bear this matter in mind.

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