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Clause 6

Volume 978: debated on Monday 11 February 1980

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I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 5, line 26, after 'persons', insert

'provided that they shall be and shall continue to be members of Her Majesty's Home Civil Service'.
We tabled this amendment because we wish to find out the names of the nominees of the Secretary of State and the relationship that might obtain between him and his nominees. If they are to be members of the Home Civil Service, presumably they will be in his employ and we will be able to understand the relationship. If the Minister can give some information about the relationship, we may be able to withdraw the amendment.

I should like to set at rest any fears that the hon. Gentleman may have. I repeat that it is our intention, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear on Second Reading, that shares or securities held by nominees are to be held by civil servants, particularly the Treasury Solicitor. That is largely for convenience. It would not make any difference to the Secretary of State's powers if the shares were held by nominees who were not civil servants.

Clause 6(2) requires that the nominees hold and deal with, that is, convert or not convert, securities or sell shares. It requires that they should act in this way and on such terms and in such a manner as directed. In other words, by law the nominee can do only what he is told to do. It would make no difference if the nominee were the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) or any of my officials. The hon. Member may feel that if he had the opportunity he would find a great deal of scope, but I assure him that under the Bill he would be required to act as instructed, as would any nominee. In that sense, I do not think that the hon Gentleman need have any fear that some sort of privilege is involved. The nominee will act purely in terms of the Bill.

Will the Minister assure the House that the people who hold the shares—even though they can do only what they are instructed to do under the directions of the Secretary of State—will be members of Her Majesty's Civil Service? I should be hesitant about allowing to be nominees people whose normal duty was not to carry out the Government's instructions and orders. If for example, persons from outside were brought in as nominees they would be placed in an intimate position within the company, which might give them an advantage. Throughout our proceedings we have been concerned that the formation of the company and its subsequent progress should be at arm's length, and I should not like to see a member of the GEC board of directors appointed as a nominee. Even though he would carry out precisely what the Secretary of State told him to do, his intimate involvement in the company would put him in a much more advantageous posiltion when the company emerged as a public company.

Will the Minister repeat the assurance that he and the Minister of State gave in Committee, namely, that they confidently anticipate that the nominees will be civil servants in order to convince us that we should not push the amendment to a vote?

10.30 pm

Certainly I confirm that, in practice, the nominees will be civil servants, but I have already made clear that as nominees they will know no more than would any other shareholder. I do not want to imply that there will be any special privileges, but I confirm that they will be civil servants, and I hope that that meets the Opposition's fears and queries.

In view of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 28, in page 5, line 36, leave out 'subscribe for or'.—[ Mr. Michael Marshall.]