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National Finance

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 26 May 1949

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Commodity Prices

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what extent Marshall Aid dollars may be used by Government buying agencies to make forward purchases of commodities in the United States of America when these would show a discount compared with current prices.

No restrictions are placed by E.C.A. on the forward purchase of commodities in the U.S.A. provided E.C.A. is satisfied with the terms of the contract. No U.K. contracts have been rejected for E.C.A. financing on the grounds mentioned.

Do the British Government take advantage of the opportunities outlined in this Question when they exist?

Burma (Nationalised British Interests)

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the present position regarding the nationalisation of British interests in Burma; what companies have been taken over and scheduled for nationalisation; in how many cases has compensation been paid in full; and how many British interests have objected to the amount of compensation offered.

The concerns so far taken over or scheduled for nationalisation by the present Burmese Government are the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company and the Rangoon Electric Company. One-third of the concessions granted to the timber companies has also been taken over. All these companies are at present discussing terms of compensation with the Burmese Government.

Has the hon. Gentleman any reason to believe that the companies are in the least satisfied either with the amount offered or with the prospect that they will ever get their money; and will he also bear in mind what has been done in regard to British interests in Burma before his Ministry is prepared to sanction any further loans or gifts to Burma?

The allotments to the companies are mainly matters for discussion between the companies and the Burmese Government, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already made representations to the Burmese Government on the subject.

Is the hon. Gentleman right in saying that this is a matter betwen the Burmese Government and the companies, in view of the fact that, in the Burmese concessions, a scorched earth policy and other policies inimical to the interests of these people were placed in front in the general interest, and is there not a great moral responsibility on the Government?

As I have said, the Government have already made the type of representations which we think are most likely to be effective.

As the hon. Gentleman said some three months ago that he had made these representations, can he now say what further progress has been made and give any support to the hope which he then held out that fair compensation will be paid?

The Burmese Government have pledged themselves to fair compensation, and discussions with the companies are now going on and they have not broken down.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the representations have produced any reply or have had any effect?

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that it will not be a condition of any loan to Burma that it should be spent on compensation, rather than on the rehabilitation of the country?

There is nothing about any loan in this Question, and that is quite another matter.

London Stock Exchange (Contango Facilities)

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether Treasury approval was sought before con-tango facilities were revived on the London Stock Exchange.

No, Sir. The question of Treasury approval did not arise, as this is a matter in which the Stock Exchange is responsible for its own procedure.

Can the Minister say what public interest is served by widening the scope of this unnecessary and unproductive speculation?

I think this is a case mainly for the Stock Exchange, rather than for the Government. It is a fact that the market for these securities is improved by this practice.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if there was any consultation both with the Treasury and the Bank of England before reverting to this pre-war practice?

We were informed that it was likely to happen, but did not think it necessary to express any opinion.

Dividend Limitation

55.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action he will take in cases where insurance and cement companies have raised their dividends and thus contravened his request for limitation of dividends.

The policy of dividend limitation is based on the voluntary co-operation of industry generally and this precludes action by the Government in individual cases. I am still satisfied with the general results, and I do not consider that the failure of individual insurance or cement companies to co-operate would justify departing from present policy.

Can the Minister say whether such dividend increases are designed to influence the share values of industries that may be suitable for nationalisation, and whether they do not represent an attempt to hold up the community to ransom?

I deplore the action of the cement companies in raising their dividends, which is contrary to the public interest and is setting a bad example to other companies; on the other hand, it does prove the case for the nationalisation of cement.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, since the Prime Minister made his appeal in February, 1948, wages have risen on an annual basis by £108 million?

The Prime Minister's appeal never said that there should be no wage increases whatever.

British Council (Questionnaire)

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if his attention has been drawn to the questionnaire addressed by the Treasury team of business efficiency experts to 966 members of the headquarters staff of the British Council; and if he will have a similar questionnaire sent to all Government Departments.

No such questionnaire has been addressed to the staff of the British Council by, or on behalf of Treasury organisation and methods officers. The second part of the Question does not therefore arise.

May I ask the Financial Secretary if he is not misinformed? If such a question as "Is your job really necessary?" was addressed to all civil servants, would he not be able to reduce the Civil Service by many thousands?