I have seen what has appeared in the Press, but no application for exchange control consent has yet been received. I am unable to say more today. I will, however, make a statement as soon as possible, I would hope not later than Monday.
In coming to a decision, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that this £129 million take-over bid would mean that half the motor car industry in this country would be owned by wholly-owned subsidiaries of American interests? Secondly, does he realise that if this deal goes through there will be a real danger that all production and employment in this country will be sacrificed not only to Detroit but, as the Financial Times suggested this morning, to the West German subsidiary of Fords of Detroit?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct in indicating that there are certain factors to be taken into account. Of course, this is not a take-over bid 55 per cent. of the equity of Fords, Dagenham, is already held by the American company and another 15 per cent., I believe, is in other United States hands. I quite agree that a factor which has to be taken into consideration is the effect which this decision might have one way or another on the development of the Ford undertaking in this country, but, of course, the subsidiary in Germany is wholly owned.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that anxiety on this subject is not confined to any particular part of this House? Will he give an assurance that he will not take a decision about Treasury permission before hon. Members have an opportunity of expressing to him their points of view?
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman make a particular point of looking into the reasons why, already owning more than half the capital of the Dagenham company, the American company should want to own a further amount of capital? Is it not possible that the pressure of British shareholders in the past has led the British company to push for markets in Germany, Europe and America, and may not that pressure be removed if British shareholders no longer hold shares in the company?
I think that we have to take into consideration the effect that this decision might have on the development of this undertaking in this country, but I repeat that the German subsidiary is wholly-owned.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that a point of principle is involved, namely, how much the control of a very large industry might fall into the hands of foreign nationals? Would he arrange for a debate to take place in the House before the Government make a decision?
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a good deal of anxiety on both sides of the House precisely for that reason? Can he explain why, if the parent company already has complete control over the subsidiary company, it wishes to buy up the remaining shares? Is there not a possibility that the motive for doing this is to divert trade to Ford subsidiary companies in other countries to the detriment of people over here? Will the Chancellor look into that very carefully before he comes to a conclusion on the matter?
I agree that is a matter to be taken very carefully into account, but I should have thought that the inference was perhaps the other way. The German subsidiary is wholly-owned, and I should have thought that one of the possible dangers was the diversion of development to that subsidiary.
While recognising the Government's dilemma, is it not the case that if the deal goes through it will be a sell-out not only of British Ford, but of the whole British motor industry, which will effectively come under American control? In view of the size of the temptation which is being offered by American Ford, will not the Chancellor take steps to prevent the transaction going through and thus putting British shareholders beyond the temptation of their own friends?
Would my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that the motor industry as a whole may shortly become the beneficiary of £9 million of public moneys for expansion purposes, a part of which is to go to Ford? Having regard to that implication, coupled with the widespread anxiety all over the country, including my constituency very largely, about short-time working in the industry, could we not have a debate on the whole of the problem and not a debate confined only to this question of the American acquisition of British Ford capital?
As I have said, the question of a debate on the motor industry is not for me, but I have indicated the factors which I think we have to take into account in arriving at this decision.
In supporting the request for a debate in the House, may I ask the Chancellor also to bear in mind the fact that there are thousands of British workers whose livelihood may well depend upon his decision in this matter? Before coming to any conclusion, will the Chancellor give an assurance that he will discuss this with the appropriate trade unions, the Confederation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Unions, who represent the interest of the workers in the industry? Surely the workers ought to be consulted, and consulted through their appropriate trade unions.
I will certainly take into consideration the hon. Member's suggestion, but I would point out that we have to consider the effect of this decision one way or the other upon the development of the industry. It might well be that to give the answer one way might have the effect of preventing the development of this company in this country and diverting the development to Germany.
When my right hon. and learned Friend is considering the matter, will he take into account the experience of Canadian companies who have factories similarly placed and now regret having given complete control over to the Americans?
Does this not indicate that the Americans are so satisfied with the Government for having given them bases in this country that they are now prepared to take over the whole country?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With very great respect, I think that you are not aware—there is no reason why you should be—that a large part of Dagenham is in my constituency as well as in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and that many of the workers concerned are constituents of mine. I have been seeking to catch your eye, and I wonder whether I might have an opportunity to put a supplementary question?
The hon. Member was not the only one trying to catch my eye. I agree that that point was not in my mind, and I regret it. I have heard the Minister say that he is to make a statement by Monday. I really think that we should proceed with the business.
But it was on that very matter, Mr. Speaker, that I wished to put a new point to the Chancellor, if I might be allowed to do so: that is, that he has not answered the first question put to him from the other side of the House. When he makes a statement, may I ask him not to present the House with a fait accompli, but to give the House an oppor- tunity of expressing its views before he takes a decision? Could I have an answer to that?
I do not think that any question was then technically asked. If the hon. Member desires to ask that question, I will call him for that purpose. Mr. Driberg.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked my right hon. and learned Friend whether he would give an assurance that he would hear our views before a decision was taken. He replied that he had written to me on this subject. To write and say that he would be glad to have a talk about the matter is not at all the same thing. I again wish to press my right hon. and learned Friend for an undertaking that no decision will be made until he has heard the views of hon. Members.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, because I really wish to ask the same question. May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer directly: will he give an undertaking that he will not take a decision before he makes his statement on Monday, or whenever it is, and that, in consultation with the Leader of the House, he will seek to ensure an opportunity for a debate, in which the House can express its view, before he takes a decision?
As I have said, the question of a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
As regards taking a decision about this matter, I certainly could not give an undertaking that I would not take a decision without a debate in the House. I will, of course, take into consideration all the points which have been put today. I will take those into consideration and come to a decision. Then, if the House does not approve it, the House has its own course.
Mr. H. Wilson:
As I understood it, Mr. Speaker, you precluded further questions on the ground that the Minister proposed to make a statement not later than Monday. In view of the doubt now thrown on the position by the Chancellor's statement, namely, that he may be making a final decision and announcing it in the House without giving hon. Members a further opportunity even by questions to put their point of view, would it not be right that hon. Members on both sides of the House, who have a very great concern, should have the right to press this matter further this afternoon, unless, of course, the Chancellor will give an assurance that he intends to give further consideration to the views which may be put before him by hon. Members?
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) asks that leave be given, under Standing Order No. 9, to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give an assurance to the House that a debate will take place before a decision is reached on the sale of the Ford Motor Company, of Dagenham.
I cannot hold that that is within the Standing Order. As I understand it, the present position is that the Minister has not yet received any application at all for consent in this matter. It would be quite beyond any precedent of which I have ever heard to move the Adjournment under the Standing Order on the refusal of a debate.
Mr. H. Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While, obviously, no one wishes to contest that Ruling in any way, may I ask for your help in this matter, to protect the rights of the House, because of the Chancellor's indication that he may decide this without any further opportunity for hon. Members to put a point?
May I mention the precedent here of the British Aluminium deal last year, which had several features in common with this? On that occasion, although there had been a Question of this kind and an Answer of that kind, and although a Question stood on the Order Paper, the Treasury, through its public relations office, indicated what the decision was to the Press at that time before a statement was made in the House.
In view of the fact that there is feverish speculation going on on the Stock Exchange in Ford shares today, and the discount on them represents the element of odds as to whether the Chancellor will give a decision one way or another, could we have an assurance that any statement to be made will be made in this House of Commons and not by a statement to the Press?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With very great respect to you, Sir, I think you indicated that your reason for rejecting my hon. Friend's Motion for the Adjournment was that the Minister had shown that he had not yet received any application. May I put to you, with great respect, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not at any point deny that he was expecting this application to arrive? It may already be waiting in his office. It is clearly not just a canard: this is something which will happen unless the Minister refuses permission for it to happen. That is why we in the House are so worried about it and why our constituents, also, are extremely worried about it.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I entirely understand the point that he makes, but it does not assist me. There is no suggestion that it is a canard. It is the fact, on the information before me, that an application has not yet been received.
Mr. H. Wilson:
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the assumption that the application is coming to the Chancellor, as the Chancellor plainly believes, if it were to come overnight would that mean that you were precluded now from refusing a similar request for a debate tomorrow if the Chancellor has by that time the application before him?
I ruled on the written Motion submitted to me this day in the circumstances as I know them and am now equipped with that knowledge. I say nothing about other circumstances or other Motions on other days.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put this point to you? It is clear from what has transpired so far that there is an immediate danger that an industry or part of an industry in this country which is partly subsidised out of public funds may be allowed to pass to a foreign owner without the House of Commons having any opportunity of being consulted before it happens. Would not that be a definite matter of urgent public importance?
All I have done is to rule upon the Motion submitted to me, not on some other one. I think that the matter really is difficult in connection with the Standing Order until an application has been received.
Mr. H. Wilson:
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would not the appropriate thing be for the Chancellor to seek your leave to make a statement in the House, even if it is only one sentence, as soon as he has the application, and before he decides upon it, so that we may have an opportunity to try our luck once again in submitting to you a Motion which might then be in order?
Further to that point of order. May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that not only are the constituents of Dagenham involved? This com- pany has large works in other parts of the country, including my constituency, Eton and Slough. May I ask you, if an application is made by tomorrow in this matter, whether we may have the opportunity of moving the Adjournment when the House meets tomorrow?
I would not rule on any hypothetical situation. No one would expect me to do so. If the hon. Gentleman makes an application at any time in some other circumstances and other words, it will be my duty to consider it, and I will do so to the best of my ability.
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that in the midday newspaper it is stated that Sir Patrick Hennessy, who is managing director of Fords, at Dagenham, was asked what his view is in this matter, and stated that an approach had been made to the Treasury, that the Treasury's reply was awaited, and that until the reply was received it would be improper for him to make any statement. In view of that, would you, Mr. Speaker, give further consideration to the matter if I produced to you the newspaper containing the report?
On a point of order. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, it seemed to me that the Chancellor was about to rise and seek to catch your eye the last time but one that you, Sir, rose. I am quite sure, as you also must be, that he would not wish even to seem to evade the question put to him by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
There must be some end to this. It is curious how one gets a different impression through the eyes. I thought that at that moment the Chancellor of the Exchequer looked extremely stable.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the danger of the British Ford undertaking being sold without this House first having the opportunity of discussing the matter?
The argument that I want to submit in support of the Motion is this. The refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make any statement at present indicates what is, in my submission, a perilous situation so far as this House is concerned. I would, therefore, ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give favourable consideration to the terms of the Motion which I am seeking to move.
The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the danger of the British Ford undertaking being sold without this House first having the opportunity of discussing the matter.
I cannot get this Motion either within the rules governing the matter. The facts disclosed do not at this moment reveal Ministerial responsibility. That is the basic difficulty.
Mr. H. Wilson:
On a point of order. In view of the immobility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his refusal to inform the House that he will make a statement as soon as this application is submitted to him so that the House can determine its action. I should like to give notice that I shall seek at an early hour tomorrow to table a further Private Notice Question so that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to tell the House whether or not he has had the application
On a point of order. In view of the fact that today's Private Notice Question was accepted at the Table, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepted responsibility and answered the Question, and that there has been a whole series of supplementary questions and answers, can you help the House, Mr. Speaker, to understand why the facts do not disclose any Ministerial responsibility?
The hon. Member has fulfilled his delightful function of inducing the Speaker to give reasons. There is not any real dilemma. Until the answer is given, the Chair is not in a position to know whether or no such an application has been made. It is on that fact that the issue of Ministerial responsibility now turns. I am not going to argue about this matter.
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. and learned Gentleman refused to give an assurance that he would not decide this matter in a sense which meant parting with this undertaking without first giving the House an opportunity of discussing the matter. In those circumstances, it seems a little difficult to understand why the Minister's answer does not disclose acceptance by him of responsibility.
I am not prepared to argue about the matter. If the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of looking at what I last said to him, he will see that the point that I am making is, right or wrong, perfectly clear.