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ADVISORY COMMITTEE IN RESPECT OF s. 2(2)(b) SCHEMES

Part of Orders of the Day — SCOTTISH DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (No. 2) BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st October 1975.

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Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie 12:00 am, 21st October 1975

I have been searching my mind during the debate to discover how it is humanly possible to spend Government money willy-nilly. How is it possible to get away with it? I have never known any public undertaking to be allowed to spend money without some control being exerted by the authorities concerned.

The SDA will have to produce annual accounts which will show the rate of investment, the return on capital, and the other financial results of its activities. Surely the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) realises that expenditure of that type is vetted by more than one body to ensure that public money is being spent prudently. From the way he speaks one would suppose that we were about to shovel money down a drain, but nothing could be further from the truth. He quoted the example of a development costing £50 million being carried out by a private enterprise firm for the Agency. He gave the impression that it would just be a matter of handing over £50 million and then letting the firm get on with it. That is not true. Money is not loaned to or invested in any undertaking unless there are regular reports on the way in which the investment is working out.

The hon. Member must appreciate that such undertakings are run in a normal businesslike fashion, and that they produce annual balance sheets and statements of accounts. They show the details of Government contributions and expenditure covering the various items on which they produce a profit or a loss. The accounts are supplied not only to the Government but to any other interest which invests in the undertaking. That is normal business procedure; it does not need to be written into every Act of Parliament.

The Bill provides for the Agency to invest, and it can pursue that investment to the fullest, even to the extent of its auditors investigating the accounts, analysing the balance sheets and satisfying the Government that the money which has been invested has been spent wisely. It amazes me to think that any hon. Member should consider that a public undertaking was willing to invest large sums without guarantees as to control and development.

I was naturally distressed to hear the reference by the hon. Member for Cathcart to some other publicly-owned activities. I could take him to industries, the appearance and condition of which are a disgrace to the United Kingdom. These firms have been in operation for 50 or 60 years, and the private owners, instead of reinvesting some of the profits to ensure a healthy rate of growth, have been spending them on high living. I hope that money will be spent on taking certain industries into public ownership with a view to improving them in every way possible, to make them more competitive and to safeguard the jobs they provide. I know of industries in which the buildings are ramshackle, there is no proper pavement and, after 60 years of profiteering, the roads still have earth surfaces. I know of industries in which the workpeople do not even have a decent floor to stand on; they have to stand on earth surfaces which serve also as a urinal because of the poor toilet facilities provided. I should like to know where all the profits go—