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Crown Agents

Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Overseas Development when she now expects the Fay Committee dealing with the Crown Agents to make its report.

The committee is concerned to complete its investigation as soon as possible and hopes to report by the autumn, if not earlier.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Crown Agents, creditors in the ill-fated Stern empire as they had investments there, ought to be receiving the greatest possible return on the investments in the Stern empire that are currently being sold off? To that end, will she instruct the receivers, W. H. Cork Gully & Co., to ensure that there are no more private deals in the sell-off of the Stern properties, as was the recent case with the South Lodge block at St. John's Wood? Will she also ensure that residents in such blocks have proper representation when those blocks come up for sale?

I shall certainly look very carefully into the last point that my hon. Friend has made. I do not have the detail on that, I must confess. The Crown Agents, as I think my hon. Friend knows, have loans of £40 million outstanding to the Stern Group. What has happened so far is that, along with other creditors, the Crown Agents have agreed that the company should be run down under an arranged scheme.

As my hon. Friend would expect, as soon as I returned to the Ministry I made it my business to look very closely into exactly what was happening in this matter. There is not a fiddle. I can assure him of that. Indeed, the agreement that has been reached would not preclude the Crown Agents from taking bankruptcy proceedings, should it be necessary, if that were thought to serve the best interests of the Crown Agents and the country. That is not precluded.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the Crown Agents are a unique organisation which is the envy of the world? Will she ensure that the value of the Crown Agents is recognised and that the baby is not thrown out with the bath water in which her hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is stirring up mud?

My hon. Friend has a good deal of grounds for the questions he is putting. But I can only repeat what I have said on past occasions a number of times from this Dispatch Box: that the Crown Agents have a great record of service in the developing countries and perform an extremely useful service here and overseas. In the past there have been all the matters which are now the subject of the Fay inquiry. To the extent that the Fay Committee has not already reported and may take until the autumn, I am absolutely convinced that that is because the investigation is thorough and that the whole of the truth will come out when the inquiry is published.