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Westland Plc

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 25 March 1987

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he intends to respond to the Trade and Industry Committee's report on Westland plc.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he expects to reply to the report of the Trade and Industry Committee on Westland plc.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade
(Mr. Paul Channon)

Yesterday I wrote to the Chairman of the Committee with the Government's response to the report.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether that response contained an acceptance that an illegal concert party was in operation? Does he recommend that the Select Committee's view on transparency in share dealings should be taken so that such illegal activity is not possible in the future?

It is for the Select Committee rather than for me to reveal the exact reply that I gave, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman—I do not think that the Committee will mind if I do—that it made two recommendations, one of which related to the disclosure of material interests. I said that those were being examined under the review of the operation of the takeover panel that I announced to the House on 28 January.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Government policy has led to the loss of 1,800 jobs at Westland? Does he think that Government aid will be required?

I have no reason to assume that the company will require Government aid. The company had an extremely good year last year, and I hope that it has a prosperous future ahead of it.

I was very pleased yesterday to receive my right hon. Friend's reply, which has been placed before the Committee. We shall be considering his response, and I hope that the Government will not hesitate to make the kind of progress that the Committee has called for, especially in relation to business ethics, with which the Committee is particularly concerned.

I hope that the review will be completed by the end of April. I shall inform the House of the Government's conclusions at a very early date.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to be able to obtain information about the ultimate beneficial owners of shares hiding behind nominees and other banks, we shall need legislation to bring that about?

That may well be so. I would not rule that out. However, I should like to wait for the review before making recommendations to the House.

In view of the undertaking that the Secretary of State has already given about limiting the ownership of Rolls-Royce shares to 15 per cent., is it not essential that legislation on the lines just referred to should be introduced before he proceeds with the privatisation of Rolls-Royce?

Order. There is another question about Rolls-Royce. This question is about Westland.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the recommendation concerns not only Westland, but companies in general. I submit that my question is in order.

I think that the hon. Gentleman should reserve his fire until we reach the question on Rolls-Royce.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospects of the helicopter division of Westland are linked closely with European collaboration? Will he confirm rumours in Europe that the British Government are not to proceed with collaboration on the NH 90?

With respect, I feel that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I know that my right hon. Friend intends to make a statement to the House about helicopters soon.

Does the Secretary of State recall assuring the Select Committee a year ago this month that he was watching the stock exchange inquiry "like a hawk"? Now that the stock exchange inquiry and the Select Committee have both concluded that the absence of a concert party strains their credulity, would it not he appropriate for him to try swooping "like a hawk"? Is it not now abundantly clear to those who want to see that the Sikorsky deal was secured by Rupert Murdoch and Lord Hanson being prepared to pay over the odds for enough shares to secure the result that the Prime Minister wanted? Is not the real reason why there was no DTI inquiry into those share dealings that they both had more influence at Downing street than the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?