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Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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4.22 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The purchase of shares in Britoil by BP."

Britoil is the largest and most important independent company based in Scotland and its headquarters are in my constituency. It employs 1,700 people who, as we meet here this afternoon, are gripped by fear about the circumstances which have unfolded since the dawn raid on the stock exchange a week ago when BP began hostile takeover manoeuvres against the Britoil operation. According to The Times this morning, they are poised to deliver a knockout blow this afternoon on the stock exchange, so this is an urgent matter.

It is also important because the board of directors, the management and the staff are, to a man and woman, opposed to this hostile takeover bid, and are looking to the House and to Her Majesty's Government to redeem promises which they have made to them. Given the Christmas hiatus which is about to come upon us, my constituents and the company are concerned that, before we resume in January, the game will be over and they will have been dragged screaming and kicking into a marriage which is certainly not to their liking.

The consequences of a BP takeover would be dire indeed. Britoil, a good example of enterprise culture in operation, would disappear into the vast maw of British Petroleum, whose own provenance is increasingly open to question. The Kuwait Investment Office has just bought another few hundred million shares, bringing its stake to one billion shares in British Petroleum.

There is a clear locus for this House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer holds a golden share in Britoil, which he said was to ward off hostile predators of the BP kind. If we have a debate this afternoon, the House can ask the Chancellor how solid is that golden share. When will the public see its value? When will he break the less than golden silence of the last few days? Will he ensure that the cheap brass of the City of London does not knock out the black gold of Britoil whose record in the oil industry is exemplary?

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The purchase of shares in Britoil by BP."

I have listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said and I appreciate that we are approaching the Christmas recess. However, he knows that the decision that I have to make is whether to give his application precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that I cannot find that his application meets the criteria under Standing Order No. 20, and regret that I cannot put his application to the House.