§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Stanhope.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Power to Treasury to make advances to certain companies]:
LORD STRABOLGI moved to insert the following new subsection:
(4) Until the sums advanced under subsection (1) of this section have been repaid, two directors of the board of the merger company shall be nominated by the Treasury, after consultation with the Board of Trade.
The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading of this Bill the matter of the non-representation of the Treasury or the Board of Trade or any Government Department on the board of this merger company was discussed at some length and I do not propose to go over the arguments
again. I would like to point out, however, that with the exception of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill all the speakers, in whatever part of the House they sit, supported the principle of this Amendment. Since then I have had the opportunity of discussing this matter with a great many experienced business men, including shipowners, men not at all of my way of thinking politically, and I have not found one who does not strongly urge, in view of the large sums of money involved, the Imperial interests involved and the importance of the whole matter, that the Treasury should have a representative on the board, so that, as the noble Marquess; Lord Dufferin, put it, they may know what is going on from day to day.
§ The noble Earl in the course of the Second Reading debate answered my point that in the case of two other companies the Government are represented. They are represented on the board of the Suez Canal Company and the AngloPersian Oil Company. He pointed out that there were certain Imperial interests involved, and the inference, apparently, was that they are not involved here should have thought that this important. merger in the North Atlantic trade was an Imperial interest. I would like to point out to your Lordships that these great liners automatically come under Admiralty control in time of war. In former days—I do not know what happens in the case of new ships and I am not going to enquire—subsidies were paid in the case of ocean greyhounds, so that their decks could be strengthened to take gun mountings and so that the ships could be used as auxiliary cruisers. In the Great War they did very valuable work. I submit to your Lordships that there is an Imperial interest here. May I cite two other cases in which this principle of Government representation has been accepted? First, there is the case of Imperial Airways, a company whose aircraft traverse foreign countries and which is in much the same position as a shipping company. The Government have representation in that case. The noble Earl did not refer to that. Secondly, there is the even more striking example of the MacBrayne Steamship Company, which runs vessels to the Western Islands and Highlands. The Postmaster-General has power to nominate a director of that 446 company. The noble Lord did not refer to that case.
§ There is still another direct precedent which I should like to mention—that is, a sister company of the White Star Line, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. In this company, which is interlocked financially with the White Star Company, one of the parties to the merger, I find that in the first place the debenture holders have a right to be represented on the board. I believe the noble Earl said, or at any rate it was said in debate in another place, that it is unusual for debenture holders to be represented on the board of a company. There are many cases, I am informed, and I have found a few, where the debenture holders are represented. Here is one. In the case of the Royal Mail the C; per cent. debenture holders are represented by one director and the 5 per cent. by another, and, most striking of all, His Majesty's Treasury is represented on the board of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company by a director.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Will the noble Lord tell us when they appointed directors 7 Was it after the difficulty? because, if so, I can quite understand that then the debenture stock holders would have a representative.
Yes, it was after certain difficulties occurred, and the Government had to come to the rescue, and the Government, because it came to the rescue, appointed a director, Sir William McClintock, who represents His Majesty's Treasury. There is a shipping company in very similar case to this particular merger, because the latter were in difficulties for they could not get the finances for building this great Cunarder, and the Government came, I still say somewhat tardily, to the rescue. After a lot of backing and filling, and veering and hauling, they decided to come to the rescue, to the extent altogether, if all the obligations were carried out, of £9,500,000.
Our case, and I think it is the case generally of your Lordships, apart from the occupants of the Treasury Bench, is that in this particular merger His Majesty's Treasury should be represented, and I have said in my Amendment "after consultation with the Board of Trade." The reason for that is obvious. The Board of Trade is the Department most closely connected with shipping. Indeed, 447 on this matter I may answer the somewhat pertinent point put by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, on the Second Reading, as to what kind of directors you would put on the board in a case of this kind. For many years I had the honour of representing a great shipping port in another place, and of being President of the Sea Pilots' Association. Those two offices brought me in much contact with the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and I was most agreeably surprised to find how well informed they were on all shipping matters. I say I was agreeably surprised, because I came with the ordinary layman's idea that they were utterly inefficient, as most Government Departments are. The senior officials of the Marine Department retire at a fairly early age, and they would make admirable directors of such a merger, and could well represent the interests of the British taxpayers and the Treasury.
There is no black mystery about managing shipping companies. The noble Earl says that this is a very competent board. I have said so. There is no reflection at all, proposed or actual, on the board of this merger, but they are not the only people who can bring useful constructive knowledge to bear on the policy of shipping. There are plenty of business men, or men of the type of retired civil servants that I have mentioned, who could admirably represent the Treasury on such a board. Then there is a grave reason why I must bring this matter to your Lordships' notice. It is within our knowledge that under the proposed merger 38 per cent. of the stock will be held by the American Company that we have been reading about in the newspapers, the International Mercantile Marine Company of the United States of America. They are friendly disposed towards us, but there is nothing at all to prevent that 38 per cent. of the shares being sold to any interest in any part of the world, to any foreign country. I submit that that is a very serious reason indeed why His Majesty's Government should be represented on the board of this merger, and I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will accept my Amendment.
One more point. The noble Earl said that if you put one or two directors on a board of ten they would be out-voted. We all know that that is not how the board of a company operates at all. You 448 do not have voting in an ordinary board of directors, or, if you do, you come to the resignation point. Matters are discussed and settled by logic, but if you have two Government directors, and anything is suggested which would adversely affect the taxpayers, the very threat of these directors to resign would bring the board quickly to their senses, if anything was being done unfavourable to the body politic. These two directors, I suggest, if well chosen, would he of value to the board, and they would be able to see that the highest interests of the nation were safeguarded. I submit, therefore, that this is a very reasonable Amendment to put forward, and that it ought to be accepted. It is not a partisan question at all. It is a non-Party question, and I submit to your Lordships that here, in this revising Chamber, this Bill, the Committee stage of which was taken early in the morning in another place, without, I suggest, its being properly digested and argued, is a very suitable case for amendment and that you should amend the Bill in the way I have suggested.
Page 2, line 15, at end insert:
("(4) Until the sums advanced under subsection (1) of this section have been repaid, two directors of the board of the merger company shall be nominated by the Treasury, after consultation with the Board of Trade ").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL STAN-HOPE)
My Lords, so far from another place not having properly considered this particular point, or having dealt with it at a very late hour, I may inform your Lordships that there was a debate on an Amendment. of a similar character, except that they proposed one director instead of two. The matter was carried to a Division and defeated by 129 votes to 37.
§ EARL STANHOPE
A little after midnight. Between 12 o'clock and 12.30. I submit it was pretty considerable vote, and showed that another place had very definite views on the question. The matter was also discussed on the Second Reading and was by no means a new matter when it came before another place. If your Lordships will turn to the 449 Agreement you will find on page 9, where the Memorandum is set out on which this whole Agreement is based, that the board is to be constituted as follows:After formation of the new Company, the board to consist of ten individuals inclusive of the Chairman; to be nominated six by the Cunard Company and four by the Oceanic Company.''Your Lordships will realise from that, of course, that if one or two directors are appointed by the Government it upsets the whole Agreement come to between the two companies and His Majesty's Government, and re-opens the whole question, which may entail other claims being made upon the merger company. Inevitably it would delay the beginning of the work of this big steamer, and whether the companies would accept or not I do not know, but let us realise quite definitely that if accepted it means the tearing up of this Memorandum.
The noble Lord opposite said that of course directors do not vote, and that the opinions of the two Government directors would no doubt influence the rest; but he failed to point out to your Lordships that, as I ventured to say in the Second Reading debate, the interests of the Government and the company in this case are one. After all, the interests of the Government are to see that this company is successful, and to see that it succeeds in paying its way and gets back a very large amount of traffic on the North Atlantic. If your Lordships will examine this agreement you will see that no dividend is payable on the shares of the company until a dividend has been paid on the debentures and on the income debenture stock, which belongs to the Government, and therefore the first interest of the ten directors of this company is to see that this company pays its way and eventually is enabled to pay a dividend on its shares. If they succeed in doing that, the interests of the taxpayers are adequately secured, because they have the first claim on any profits which are made, and only after that has been fully met is any dividend available for the shareholders. The board of the merger company is formed by selection from the existing boards of the Cunard and Oceanic Companies, men who have the greatest experience in the North Atlantic shipping trade.
450 The noble Lord opposite says that very much to his surprise he finds that the shipping side of the Board of Trade has very great knowledge of shipping. I have had to answer for the Board of Trade in this House sufficiently to realise that a very long time ago, and I should have thought that the noble Lord might have realised it having regard to the Safety at Sea and the Load Line Convention, which was discussed not only in this House but also in another place with which he is familiar. Anybody who knew of the long dealings of the Board of Trade with regard to that question would know how very full is their knowledge with regard to shipping matters. But that is quite a different story from making a profit in a company which is engaged in passenger traffic. There all sorts of other considerations come into play. I thought that the noble Lord would point out some matter wherein the interest of the Government differed from the financial interest of the company. All he said was that these Government directors should be Treasury watch-dogs, but that conveys nothing at all, because, as I have already tried to point out, if this company succeeds in making this venture profitable, the whole of the interests of the taxpayers are adequately safeguarded, because they have the first claim on any profits.
The noble Lord raised a point in regard to Imperial Airways. There, I think, the House will at once agree that the Government director is of advantage. If you are going to look at Imperial Airways purely from the commercial side, you will concentrate your traffic on the most paying lines, and you will leave out any extension of airways over those long-distance lines which, at any rate for some years, are almost always on a non-paying basis and, in fact, cost the company a good deal of money. From the Imperial side and the Government side it is to our interest to see these Imperial airways extended to the far distant parts of the Empire, and from that point of view alone it is obviously wise to have a Government director. When the noble Lord turns to the other cases he quoted, there I think he will find himself in some difficulty. What happened was this. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company and Coast Lines, Limited, set up the company of MacBrayne, and those two companies who formed the 451 MacBrayne Company themselves came to the Government and asked that a Government director should be appointed, and it was for that reason that a Government director was appointed in that case.
There has been no such demand in regard to this merger company, nor indeed, would it be very easy for them to make such a request. As your Lordships know, there have been a good many difficulties in the past with regard to the Oceanic Company, and it was at the request of the Government, and no doubt on behalf of the Government, that the noble Lord, Lord Essendon, became the Chairman of the Oceanic Company. He has therefore been in very close touch with the Government with regard to the Oceanic Company, and again of course in very close touch in regard to the merger company. Therefore if we were considering anyone for appointment as Government director I can conceive of no one whom we should be more likely to appoint than Lord Essendon. Why should not Lord Essendon fill the bill'? Why should he be ear-marked as a Government director? As I pointed out, if he succeeds in making a success of this company, he will automatically cover the whole scope of our security, because remember, my Lords, under the terms of the Memorandum the Government maintain absolute control of the constitution of the company.
For instance, the company must remain under British control. On that point, the noble Lord, I am afraid, was entirely misinformed in regard to the position of the Oceanic Company. As your Lordships know, a claim has been lodged in the Courts by an American Company, but that company only claims shares in the Oceanic Company, and therefore will have only a very small share in the control of it. The actual amount outstanding, I believe, is some £2,350,000, which is not due to be paid for another eighteen months. Of course, I cannot go into that question because it is definitely sub judice, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed another place, when the point was raised, that there was no question whatever that the condition that the company should remain entirely under British control was safeguarded under this Bill, even if the American Company succeeded in winning its case in the Courts. A second point in regard to our control is that the share capital may not 452 be increased without Treasury consent. Thirdly, it is laid down that the articles of association cannot be altered, again unless the Treasury give their consent.
It is, of course, natural that the noble Lord opposite should raise the point that a Government director should be appointed. After all, it is part of the Socialistic doctrine that the Government should interfere in all trade and business and should endeavour to nationalise it where possible. No doubt this is, they think, their maximum effort, and their best chance under present conditions, but of course that is not the policy of His Majesty's present Government. We desire to assist commerce and industry to the utmost of our ability, but we are also anxious to leave the control of that industry and commerce in private hands, because we believe that it is in private hands, and in private hands alone, that the greatest chance of success lies. We are particularly anxious not to interfere in the management of this particular company, and for this reason. It has, as your Lordships know, practically a monopoly of the North Atlantic passenger trade. It will be in competition with an American company or companies, with a French company, with a German company and with an Italian company. Any one of those companies, certainly if they read the speech of the noble Lord, will say: "Here are two Government directors, who are in the position of being able to dictate the policy of this company, and therefore this is not a private British company at all, it is a Government concern. Therefore all the hacking of the British Government will be behind it. We shall not get any question considered fairly between the British and any other foreign company because the British Government is in fact this company."
That is exactly the position that we wish to avoid. Of course, there is competition between British and foreign companies all over the world in every kind of business, but the British Government do not take a hand in the day-to-day management of that business. Points, when they arise, are dealt with by those companies from the commercial point of view, and not from the point of view of Government policy. We were anxious in this case, where there is competition between a British monoply and foreign companies, that the Government should not be considered as taking a hand in it 453 and that all its doings and its business should not be looked on as being part of Government policy, instead of merely a matter which is run entirely from commercial considerations. I hope, from what I have said, your Lordships will realise that the Government cannot possibly accept this Amendment. As I say, it has been already considered and refused in another place, and I very much hope that your Lordships will refuse to accept it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
We debated this at some length on the Second Reading, and the noble Earl then gave us a reply which he has amplified considerably to-day, and the reasons which he has put forward to-day seem to me more powerful. No doubt special consideration has now been given to the Truatter, but I am still a little troubled by the answer, because in the first place there are precedents. It is true that in some cases there are strategic grounds on which the Government may wish to be represented on a board. But that is not always the case. It may be that there are financial interests which should be watched and protected. There was a Government director in respect. of money which had been advanced in relation to the Royal Mail Company. I quite admit that there are very important differences in regard to the merger company to be constituted. No doubt because of the inability of the Royal Mail Company to meet the debenture interest when the security was in jeopardy the Government did appoint a director. But that was not. a strategic reason.
My difficulty is this. The Government are providing £3,000,000 for the ship and £1,500,000 for working capital, and I gather that the same figures will apply when the advance is made for the second ship. Working capital of £3,000,000 out of 9,500;000 is a very large amount. So, of course, is the £6,500,000 which is to be invested in the ship. I quite follow all that the noble Earl has said as to the protection that is given to the Government in relation to the profits, but it is not as a rule when profits are being made that troubles arise. And when the merger company is able to pay its interest on the debentures and the question arises as to what dividend should be paid to the shareholders, I quite understand. that there need be no serious anxiety about it. That is not the real 454 difficulty. I agree with the noble Earl that the directorate of this company—six members from the Cunard and four from the Oceanic Company—is no doubt a very good working directorate, but that has often been the case in other companies where financial interests have had someone on the board to watch out for them.
The Agreement provides that money paid out of working capital has to be paid as it is required for current working expenses. I agree that you can trust the board, but I should have thought that, for the proper protection of its own financial interest, the Government might have had a representative on the board. I cannot believe that there is any difficulty owing to the agreement between the Cunard and the Oceanic. I should have thought also that neither the Oceanic nor the Cunard would raise any objection to having two more directors, or one more director, representing the Government. It could riot possibly do them any harm; indeed, I should have thought. it would do them good. It would be an advantage to have a Government representative on the board from their point of view. The argument that the noble Earl used last was the one that influenced me most., and that was that difficulties and complications might possibly arise because of foreign influences. I can only conclude that the Government have considered this very carefully, especially as the point was debated and a Division taken upon it in another place, and there has since been the opportunity to consider the matter again. But, as I say, I have been impressed by the last argument of the noble Earl, and in view of these various considerations I shall not myself press this Amendment if the Government maintain their attitude.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
I must confess that I was not impressed by the speech of the noble Earl who replied for the Government. The noble Earl said that if the Government had representation on the board other nations would know that the resources of Great Britain were backing up the shipping line. These debates are not held so secretly and the -whole affair has not been so clandestine that other Governments do not already know that the resources of Great Britain are behind this line.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
In that case I will turn to the remainder of the noble Earl's speech.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
If I might intervene, that was not the noble Earl's point to which I alluded in my speech. As I understood it, there were possibilities of difficulties because of foreign complications.
THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA
I am obliged to the noble Marquess. At the same time, he will admit that he did not help me very specifically as to what these difficulties and complications with foreign nations may be. I particularly objected to the argument used by the noble Earl that this was n Socialist measure. It is not. a Socialist measure at all. It is simply a measure designed to obtain as many safeguards as possible for the expenditure of public money, and I have always understood that that was one of the credos of the Conservative Party. Although the Division was so decisive, the Government at that time were far from convinced in their own mind that this was a good plan. The Government's representative said:I think it is a matter which has to be thought out. Various methods will he adopted, of control or otherwise, whatever may be thought suitable. I do not want to lay down any hard and fast rule, but I think that in this particular instance we have found the best method of control in the national interest.That is not a very convinced statement. It was not, surely, a matter on which the Government could have made up their mind very definitely one way or the other. The Government obviously at that time were doubtful as to whether they should not have representation on the board.
I quite agree that if this Amendment is passed there will have to be a representative on the board of the merger company. That is why the Amendment is offered. It is surely no argument to come to this House and say: "If you pass this Amendment we will have to alter our proposal." That is why the Amendment was first introduced and is now supported. The noble Earl devoted a great deal of time to explaining how useless a representative of the Government would be on the board, and he then 456 went on to say that in any case these vital functions, would be performed by Lord Essendon. First of all we were told there were no functions to be performed at all, and then that someone was perfectly competent to perform them. I must confess I was very disappointed with the noble Earl's answer. I think it is important for a number of reasons that the Government should have a representative who will be able to tell them how the affairs of the company are going.
For instance, the first duty of the new merger hoard apparently will be to scrap a large number of ships which are being transferred under this agreement as assets. Would the Government not think it a good plan to have someone to represent them when that decision is being taken, to tell them exactly the value of the shipping which is being scrapped and what the remaining assets of the company are going to be? Suppose the board wants more money, would it not be a good thing that the Treasury should he able to consult someone who was in daily contact with the board of the new company? Would it not be better, when the decision has to be taken as to whether the second ship is to be built, that the Government should have at their disposal an accurate and well-informed adviser to tell them exactly what the prospects of the second ship are and what profits it is likely to make? The noble Earl saved a good deal of criticism on the Second Reading when he informed us, as no one else had previously informed us in another place, that these ships were going to be capable of greater speed than any of their rivals. Would it not he a good thing if the Government had someone on the board to tell them from day to day whether these enormous vessels are in fact going to be capable of these very great speeds which are necessary if they are going to make money?
All these numerous questions leap to the mind when one thinks of the enormous amount of public money that is being put into this enterprise. This is not the last time that the Government are going to be asked to put money into private enterprise, and I hope it will not be the last time the Government will agree to do so. The result may be, if this precedent is followed, that you will have an enormous amount of public money scattered in numerous enterprises throughout the country, while the 457 Government are entirely ignorant, except for certain annual or triennial reports, as to how the companies are doing and what prospects there are of getting their money back or their interest paid. From this more general point of view I would ask the Government to consider once again whether, in view of the arguments which have been put forward from all parts of the House, they cannot meet us on this point, and at least have one representative on the board to represent the interests of the Treasury and the taxpayer.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I must confess that, although I was very much interested in the noble Earl's speech in answer to my noble friend behind me, if was disappointed with his conclusions. This is one of those cases where we are unfortunate, because the very fact that an Amendment is moved by one of my noble friends is ipso facto a reason for a great many noble Lords to vote against it. Otherwise, I believe, we should have a good deal of support for this extremely reasonable suggestion. If I had thought of it sooner I should have asked the noble Marquess who has just sat down to put the Amendment down in his name, but unfortunately I did not do that. The suggestion of the noble Earl that we want a director put on this board as an example of our Socialism is, if I may respectfully say so, really rather ridiculous. That we should desire to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer and to look after the interests of the Treasury is, to my mind, a most ordinary and commendable spirit on the part of any political Party. If the noble Earl wants an instance of Socialism he might read the Petroleum Production Bill which has been introduced very rapidly and which is pure nationalisation, but this very tentative and reasonable suggestion that the taxpayer's money should be safeguarded by placing a representative on this board seems to me to be one that should commend itself to your Lordships.
The noble Earl really hardly dealt with the question which must a rise, and which the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches mentioned. He rightly said that it, is not in good times that difficulties arise but in bad times, and the noble Earl must know that in a big concern of this sort there is such a thing as policy, and it is in connection with, policy that the interested party, the British 458 taxpayer, should have a representative. There might be new inventions, there might be new schemes, there might be great risks that they were prepared to take. Admitting that the interests of the company and of the Government are identical, that does not necessarily mean that the policy they would adopt would be one that would commend itself to His Majesty's Government. Surely in a matter of this sort someone who is watching, someone who has day-to-day contact, would be of use and should be placed there?
When the noble Earl said that if at this late stage a representative of the Government is put on the board it would mean tearing up the Agreement, I really can hardly believe that is the case. I believe, with the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches, that the company would be only too glad if the suggestion were made by His Majesty's Government and this appointment were made. It seems to me in everybody's interest—in the interest of the company, in the interest- of the Government, in the interest of the taxpayer—and none of the elaborate arguments brought forward by the noble Earl has really moved us at all. I am afraid we shall have to give your Lordships the trouble of a Division.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I had not proposed to intervene in the debate, but the appeal of my noble friend behind me, that the Government should consider this matter again, does induce me to say a few words in answer to the very careful argument he put forward. Let me say at once that neither I nor my noble friend Lord Stanhope asks your Lordships to divide against this measure because it is or is not Socialism, but I think my noble friend was justified in pointing out that the arguments which were adduced in another place were based on the fact that the policy of the Government making advances to enterprises and running them and managing them themselves, was the policy of the Socialist Party, and that this was the nearest they could get to putting it into effect. That argument was—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Yes, but the argument in support of it was put forward by Socialists. In fact, as my noble 459 friend reminded your Lordships, in another place—although it is not very profitable to discuss what happened in another place—there were Amendments by people who objected to the whole Agreement. They numbered thirty-seven at a maximum and thirty at a minimum. so they were pretty well the solid block of Socialists, lessened by one or two who thought that business was coming to their ports and so it would be inadvisable to vote against the Bill. My noble friend said he did not think there was much force in the argument that there was a risk of international complications, because, he said, everyone knows that the Government are entering into this bargain. That, as the noble and learned Marquess opposite pointed out, is not quite the point.
The objection is that there is in the North Atlantic trade very keen competition going on between a number of lines which belong to different countries and in which no doubt very anxious fighting takes place—commercial fighting—between the different companies concerned in order to try to secure what they regard as their fair share of the trade and others regard as more than their fair share of the trade. The view quite deliberately formed after very careful consideration is that whereas there is no harm at all in all the world knowing, as they must know and do know, that the Government are finding money towards this particular ship and we hope later on for a sister ship, it is quite another thing to know that the Government, by their own chosen representatives, are actively engaged in carrying on the business of a particular company and carrying out and giving effect to certain decisions which may be—I hope will not be—resented by foreign lines or foreign Governments.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Will the noble Viscount permit me to interrupt in order to ask a question? There is one point on which I am not quite clear in regard to the American lines which would be in competition. Do the American Government pay a subsidy to those lines? If they do, are they not in just the same way competing with us?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think the American Government do pay a subsidy, and I think that rather strengthens my argument. I see no objection to the Americans or the French or Italians or 460 Germans knowing—because all these lines are involved—that the British Government are going to find money for this company. All the world knows it. We know that many foreign Governments, not only the American Government, have found money to help their shipping lines. But I think it would tend to grave risk of deterioration in international good will and in international relations if Governments themselves were actively engaged in running these lines one against another. I think that might produce complications. It is that risk which was in the mind of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he very carefully reconsidered this matter.
I know from my own personal knowledge that after the Second Reading debate the matter was brought to the personal attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he went into it very carefully with the representatives of the Government in this House. It was only after considering the arguments put forward that he very deliberately came to the conclusion—a conclusion in which the Government concur—that it was inadvisable to accept the suggestion put forward, not because it was Socialism, or because it was proposed by this or that member of the House. After all, it had the support, as has been pointed out, of my noble friend opposite, who has himself been a member of the National Government, and of my noble friend behind me who represents a section of our Party. It was decided on much broader grounds, on national grounds, that it was unwise.
I would like to say in answer to the specific argument of my noble friend when he said that the Government ought to know what was going on, that we ought to know what was happening with regard to the scrapping of ships and to policy generally, that I quite agree that that is important. But there is no doubt whatever that the Government will know exactly what is going on. Not only are there on the board men who are admitted by everyone to be the leading persons and the leading authorities in this particular trade, but we have among them people put on by the Government to represent the Government specially. On the Oceanic Trust Company there is the noble Lord, Lord Essendon. There is no doubt that we shall get from the gentlemen on that board exactly the information 461 we want, whether Lord Essendon is there as representing the Oceanic Trust or is there nominally as the representative of His Majesty's Government. We shall get just the same information as from the person we should have chosen. There is no question of the Government being kept in the dark. If there is a. question of dealing with the trust security on which the debentures are charged, it is specifically provided under the Agreement that the trustees are to be persons approved by His Majesty's Treasury. We have, in regard to the security, selection of the people to represent us and to act as trustees.
It is quite true, as the noble Lord opposite said, that it is perfectly within the power and right of this House to make any amendment your Lordships like in the Bill. Although it deals largely with finance, it is not a financial Bill in the sense of being certified as a Money Bill. If this question had not been discussed in another place, or if the Government had decided without full discussion, I should have thought there was a great deal to be said for the view that at least opportunity ought to be given to the Government to reconsider it and for another place to express an opinion. But that is not what has happened. This matter has been carefully considered by the Government, it has been debated on Second Reading and in Committee and through all stages in another place. On this specific point a decision was taken in another place and, as my noble friend Earl Stanhope said, that decision was against this proposal. It has been reconsidered by the Government and they still regard it as undesirable. Therefore the effect of carrying the Amendment must necessarily be to bring about delay. The matter would be sent back to be reconsidered in another place and I do not think, if my noble friend will forgive my saying so, that, any new questions have been raised which were not raised in previous discussons. Obviously the Bill could not become an Act before Easter, and for how long after Easter I do not know. There would have to be the usual discussions which take place between the two Houses when there is difference of opinion.
I am not sure whether, in a matter preeminently financial, the terms on which a guarantee ought to be given, your Lord- 462 ships would think it right to press your view too far against the decision of the House of Commons. But, assuming that was done and the view of this House prevailed, the position would have to be discussed with the parties to the Agreement, with the Cunard Company and the Oceanic Company. My noble friend said that they would probably raise no difficulty, and I think that is very likely to be true, but still it would take time. It is not merely a case of asking the companies because a great many interests in the companies would have to be consulted. You would delay the operation of this Agreement for a very considerable time with very grave doubt; of any different decision being reached. This is a matter which in the national interest is of very great importance. There has been very long delay. Noble, Lords opposite said it was too long, but I am not going to bandy words about that. I do not agree that the delay has been longer than could have been avoided in the circumstances. Still it is quite true there has been delay in a project which is urgently required from the point of view of employment and a project which is going, we hope, to restore to us that pre-eminence on the Atlantic which has belonged for some little time to other people. Of course a ship started two or three years ago does not wait for ever, although there has been no deterioration so far, thanks to the excellent work put into her. Still it is important from the national point of view, and from the point of view of employment, that this Agreement. should become operative as soon as possible, and the work be continued. Under this Amendment you would get delay which would not be likely to result in an altered position, in order to get something which, when analysed, is not very valuable when you have got it.
I am not saying that there are not cases in which it is important and valuable that the Government should have direct representation. There are cases —as for instance when strategic questions are involved, and the financial interests of a company may be different from the interests of the nation; but in this particular case you have got a board which admittedly consists of the very best people to carry on a, commercial enterprise, and you have an enterprise in which there is no conflict of 463 interest between the Government and the company. You have got actually included in the present board the very people who have been appointed by the Government on one or other of the boards which are going to choose this merger company's directors. Therefore you have got the very first information and the most competent direction. In those circumstances I suggest that it is not necessary to alter the Agreement in order to ensure that the Government shall put on an additional one or two directors, who will not be in a better position to tell them anything than the people already on the board, and will not be more likely to give honest and impartial information than those in whom the Government, and your Lordships too, I am sure, have confidence.
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Marley, L. [Teller.]||Sanderson, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]||Rhayader, L.|
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Chaplin, V.||Greville, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Harris, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Hailsham, V.||Heneage, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Halifax, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Ullswater, v.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Bath, M.||Jessel, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Alvingham, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bingley, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Brocket, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Derby, E.||Chesham, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Clanwilliam, L.(E. Clanwilliam.)||Portsea, L.|
|Grey, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Cornwallis, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Cottesloe, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Darcy (de Knayth), L.||Seaton, L.|
|Munster, E.||Dickinson, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Peel, E.||Eltisley, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Elton, L.||Strathcona, and Mount Royal, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Ernle, L.|
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Templemore, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ EARL PEEL
I would like to put one question which I think is relevant to the first clause. It is in connection with the time which these powers taken by the Treasury are to last. There is power, of course, first to raise the £3,000,000 and the £1,500,000 for the working capital of the new company, and then there is a further power to raise, for another ship or other ships, another £5,000,000. That question comes under review after the formation of the merger company. Then
§ While not in the least desiring to be doctrinaire, or to lay down the principle that in no case is it desirable to have Government representatives, still I do say that in this ease I do not think it is either necessary or desirable; that you have really good representation and direction, and that to accept this Amendment would be to incur a risk which it would be wiser, if possible, to avoid. In those circumstances I ask your Lordships not to upset the Bill, but to agree with the view which the Government have put forward.
§ On Question, Whether the proposed new subsection (4) shall be inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents,; Not-Contents, 54.
§ it rests with the Government in their discretion to decide whether or not they should raise these sums and lend these sums. The point upon which I should like to ask my noble friend for information is this: Do those powers, if they are not used, last, and if so, for how long? Apparently, under the Bill, if not used they seem to last for ever, because for instance a decision may be taken after the formation of the merger company to build one ship or even another ship also, or they may decide against doing so. They need not come to a decision, as I understand it, just after the merger company has been formed. In fact they might come to a negative decision, and 465 then they might come to a decision in the contrary sense in another five or ten years.
§ I cannot recall any precedent for powers of this kind lasting so interminably as they appear to last under the proposals in the Bill. Of course my noble friend may say: "Well, this fleet has a, monopoly of the British trade on the Atlantic, and it may be useful to hold this power of building other ships in terrorem for many years over the competing fleets in America and France." But of course that argument might also be used against any competition with the British Fleet by Britishships. My noble friend may say that these ships could only be built, not only with the assent of the Treasury but also, I suppose, with the assent of the company, and the company in certain circumstances might say that these ships ought not to be built; but it does seem to me rather a remarkable thing that these powers, if not used, should go on for so many years. Ought there not to be some limiting clause—ten years or something of that kind—within which the powers should be used, failing which those powers should lapse? I cannot think that it is a very good precedent to set in an Act, if I am right in my interpretation of it, that certain powers as regards raising money and lending money should have no termination in time, but if not used should go on for ever and be used at the wish of the Government or of the Treasury of the day at almost any time. I will conclude by asking my noble friend definitely whether any provision is going to be inserted in the Bill which will effectively end in any way those powers which are entrusted to the Treasury by the Bill.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, it is quite true, as my noble friend says, that under the arrangement set out in this White Paper no actual term of years is laid down within which the possibility of raising a loan would lapse. This matter was also discussed, I think, in another place, but with the idea that there should be a time-limit of two years. Quite obviously, two years was too short a period, because, as my noble friend said, the merger company some time after it had come into existence might decide that a second ship of the name type might be required, or might say that it preferred on the whole to have two smaller ships. 466 It would take some little time to come to a decision on that, and perhaps those two smaller ships might be built one after the other. Therefore a period of quite a few years might elapse before a decision could be come to and the actual money expended. I speak subject to correction on this matter because, as my noble friend knows, I am not in the Treasury, but I imagine no actual term of years was put into the Bill because any term of years likely to be absolutely safe might give an entirely false impression as to the length of time within which the money might be advanced to this company.
My noble friend suggested a term of ten years. My belief is that long before that period has elapsed a final decision will have been come to one way or the other; but I think it would not have been safe—and I think he will agree with me —to put any period of less than ten years into this Agreement. As he pointed out, unless the company asked for this money the Government would not, of course, think of advancing it. On the other side, the Treasury has an absolute right at any time to refuse to advance the money, and therefore the Government of the day will come to a decision on that matter. I think that really safeguards the position both from the point of view of the company and from the taxpayer's point of view. We should know fully, of course, if the period was not immediate, what the results had been of the first advance of £4,750,000, and should be satisfied that the money would be well expended if we finally decided to advance the further £5,000,000.
As regards the further point, as my noble friend said, this company really holds the British monopoly of the trade in the North Atlantic, and therefore there is, I think, no serious competition to be considered from a British source. On the other hand there might be competition from other countries. I do not think that no limit was put in for that reason, but really more in order that there should be freedom to the Government of the day to come to a decision on the matter on the results that were obtained upon the first advances. I cannot really believe, however, that any Government would think of advancing this money without coming to Parliament again if there were really any long delay between the first advance and a subsequent one 467 on other ships. I do not know whether I have met my noble friend's point?
§ EARL PEEL
I am much obliged to my noble friend. As regards a period of ten years, it would be quite easy, I think, to limit the period during which a decision had to be taken to ten years; I am not suggesting that the ships would have to be built within ten years, but if a decision had to be taken within five or six years, I think that would be sufficient. But I leave the point in the charge, as it were, of the noble Earl. If he thinks it advisable or possible to move any Amendment perhaps he will do so—I will not say on the Report stage because I do not think there will be one, but under our beneficent procedure in this House, as he knows, he can move an Amendment on Third Reading. Perhaps he would be kind enough to think the matter over.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am hoping to have the Third Reading of this Bill to-day in order to get it through before the Recess.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.
§ Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, Bill read 3a and passed.