The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) asked a specific question on Second Reading and I have been able to obtain a specific answer. It may be convenient if I tell him now that the clause does not extend the present power to give guarantees. It merely codifies existing prerogative powers under which the Government can give indemnities when they consider it in the national interest to do so.
The hon. Member was correct when he said that there is no monetary limit, but that is no change from the present position. The clause gives specific parliamentary authority for such operations and lays down specific rules for notifying the House whenever indemnities are given, as well as when they are called. I know that the hon. Gentleman agreed with that, but he wanted clarification. I hope that my comments have been helpful to him.
If there were no specific authority, the House, by giving specific authority, is doing something that was not done before. I shall read carefully what the Economic Secretary has said. The proposal could create a situation that might be desirable, though not foreseen by the Government. A Government who did not enjoy a majority in the House could initiate sweeping action under the clause and not be called to account by the House.
Without going so far as to think that the Government have secret plans for vast IMF schemes, or anything so imaginative as that, I can foresee a future Government proposing schemes that would not command the instant support of the House. Other legislatures required to endorse the proposals could be obstructive. The most difficult case could involve the behaviour of Congress. Do any comparable provisions exist in current or planned United States legislation?
I should like to be able to answer that, but I cannot. I shall answer the question at some other time. I do not believe that the provision changes the nature of our authority. It seeks to give propriety to it. I shall examine the matter carefully.