asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will give redress to members of the public who purchased shares in Great Universal Stores Limited between 7th July and 10th October, 1966, on the basis of a 36¼ per cent. dividend, in view of the Treasury's action in forcing the company to reduce its dividend to 32½ per cent. retrospectively.
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House by what statutory authority the Treasury intervened in this matter? Was it not a rather ugly example of government by menace—menace to use powers which the Government did not have?
There was no question of statutory powers or statutory action. We invited the co-operation of the Great Universal Stores board in the matter of dividend restraint, and I am glad to say that it showed a great deal of responsibility—rather more than some hon. Members opposite have shown.
My right hon. Friend is well aware of the feeling on this matter. It is only right to say that there has been a very high degree of co-operation. In the early stages there was some genuine confusion and misunderstanding, but the matter is now perfectly clear, and we are obtaining very good co-operation.
Is not there a question of good faith here? In a situation which is largely a crisis of confidence have not the Government forced some great companies to break their word?
There is no question of forcing companies to do anything. I do not accept that there is any breach of faith. Many wage and salary earners were rightly expecting increases, which have been affected by the standstill, and there is no reason why shareholders should be in a privileged position.
Does my hon. and learned Friend call it co-operation when a great building and construction company generously reduces its dividend from 20 per cent. to 19 per cent.? Is not that just a method of getting round the difficulty?
I am not justifying and I do not accept that it is a breach of faith. We are inviting people of all sections of the community to co-operate in a vitally important measure to obtain an improvement in our economic position. We are obtaining this co-operation—to the consternation of hon. Gentlemen opposite.