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Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Since the Select Committee's report on EC scrutiny procedures for the House and its recommendations have been published, will the Leader of the House reassure us that the usual fate of such reports will not befall this one, bearing in mind that even those Members who are enthusiastic about our membership of the Community, such as me, want to see effective scrutiny in this House? In view of the urgency of this matter and the need for proper EC scrutiny and
Column 849surveillance, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the report's recommendations will not be put off for weeks, months or even years?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I issued a statement today explaining that I cannot respond immediately to the individual recommendations of the report. I am pleased that the report has taken account of a number of recommendations put forward by my predecessor. I shall discuss the report with my colleagues because it involves a matter which touches on many Departments. I shall come to the House with the Government's response to the Committee's recommendations so that we can proceed with the implementation of such changes as the House regards as appropriate.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : Now that the proceedings of the House are televised, when will consideration be given to those of our constituents who, sadly, are confined to wheelchairs as a result of various disabilities so that they can benefit from having access to the House? Is the Leader of the House aware that if meetings are held in the Committee Rooms in Westminster hall, it is virtually impossible for such people to attend them? When are we to see the Government giving priority to disabled people who want to come to this place to see their Members of Parliament or to attend Committee meetings, which they are entitled to attend?
Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider seriously the requests which have been made already by my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren) for an early statement and a debate on the future of the ECGD, especially against the background of the rumours that now abound that short-term cover and, perhaps more importantly, long-term project cover, will be withdrawn, with the adverse effect that this would have on the northern economy?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is the third of my hon. Friends to draw attention to this important matter. There is a matching number of Ministers from the responsible Department sitting on the Government Front Bench. I have no doubt that they have heard what my hon. Friend has said.
Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley, North) : As today is St. Andrew's day, it might be appropriate to ask the Leader of the House whether next week he will initiate a debate on the Scottish economy. It might be appropriate also to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, more specifically, to intervene in the debate on the future of Scotland's lowland airports, an issue which has been causing concern for the past four or five months without any resolution being achieved. Will he give the House the opportunity to discuss in detail and in depth the future of Glasgow airport?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise to respond promptly to the requirements of every saint's day in the House, especially as I think that I am right in saying that today is All Saints Day--[ Hon. Members-- : "No."] I am sorry, tomorrow.
Column 850I think that I shall be on rather more certain ground if I deal with the hon. Gentleman's question about Glasgow airport. As he knows, the time has expired for the completion of consideration of the representations that have been received on the matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be announcing his conclusions as soon as that announcement is compatible with the proper assessment of the arguments.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that tomorrow morning I shall have the honour of presenting a petition to the House on behalf of the constituents of Torbay and visitors to the constituency, which has been signed by about 10,500 people, on the subject of the outfall of raw, untreated sewage into the sea of south Devon? Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time during next week, or beyond, for an urgent debate on this appalling and continuing pollution?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can understand that my hon. Friend regards it is an honour to present a petition on that subject. I cannot guarantee a debate on it immediately, but I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : May I press the Leader of the House on the issue raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)? Is he aware of the effect that the closure of the BAT factory will have on a community that has already suffered as a result of the decimation of community industries? One of our main concerns--this is why a debate should take place--is that many of the jobs will go to Brussels. Is this a foretaste of what will happen when the Single European Act 1992 takes effect? Instead of jobs being created in Britain, will we see an exodus of jobs to the rest of Europe in the interests of international cartels that hold monopoly power over our industries?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the concern of hon. Members and the community about the factory. That is why we have taken the steps that I have already mentioned. It is wrong to conclude that the prospect of opening competition in the European Community will represent a threat to job opportunities in this country. Britain has been creating jobs at a faster rate than our Community partners and investment is being attracted to this country on a considerable scale, and there is no reason why that should not continue.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : Given the problems facing the British shoe industry, will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time next week for an urgent debate? Is he aware that since 1987 in Hinckley, Barwell and Earl Shilton in my constituency, the industry has been halved from 30 to 15 factories? Is he further aware that there is widespread disquiet about the enforcement of existing regulations for imported products? There is now the prospect of the whole of eastern Europe opening up to trade with Britain, which will create new problems, especially if Poland is included in any trading agreement. We must consider those problems urgently.
Column 851the boot and shoe industry. I cannot promise an early debate, but I am sure that it is a topic to which the House will wish to return.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Why are the Government frightened of allowing the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement later today and why are they frightened of having a debate in Government time next week on the 11-week-old ambulance dispute? Could it be the 6 million-strong petition or the tens of thousands of pounds collected every day, which demonstrate universal public sympathy? Are the Government trying to sweep under the carpet individual incidents such as that of the Army sergeant in Hertfordshire who earlier this week was returned to his barracks at Chichester because of his sympathy with the ambulance crews and his recognition of the Army's inability to provide a 999 service? After 11 weeks of dispute, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to head into Christmas with the lockout of ambulance crews putting lives at risk? Where is the Secretary of State for Health?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : No topic has been more regularly considered by this House, both before and after the recent parliamentary break, than the ambulance dispute. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health spoke to the House at length during a debate on the National Health Service only a few days ago. There will be a further opportunity to return to the issue when the House debates the National Health Service again next week. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend will continue to keep the House informed of developments, as he has done to date.
Mr. John Browne (Winchester) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that last year there were some 8,000 serious accidents in schools, yet the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which requires first aid cover for companies and even for banks, does not require such cover in schools?
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that during the last Session early-day motion No. 174 was signed by 336 hon. Members, which is more than 50 per cent. of the entire House of Commons? [That this House applauds the Approved Code of Practice which followed the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974) and which requires that, even in low hazard industries, every employer of more than 150 people should ensure the on site availability of a qualified first aider ; believes the same requirement should apply to children in schools ; further recognises the value of teaching first or emergency aid in schools ; and applauds the initiative of the St. John Ambulance in issuing its publication Emergency Aid in Schools, which, accompanied by a video, shows how children can be taught a basic course between the ages of six and twelve years so that they are competent in assessing emergency situations, restarting breathing and circulation, dealing with bleeding, shock and unconsciousness especially resulting from drug or solvent abuse and burns and scalds and so qualifying for the St. John Ambulance Three Cross Emergency Aid Award.]
Will he please make time for a debate on that matter in this Session of Parliament?
Column 852draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the points made by my hon. Friend.
circumstances--there have come to light an increasing number of possible serious miscarriages of justice? Several of those arise in my constituency, and I know that there are others in constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House. In those circumstances, does not the matter require urgent and serious debate by the House, and can the right hon. and learned Gentleman find time for a debate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that I can provide time for such a debate in the near future, but if and in so far as those points fall within the terms of reference of the inquiry already taking place, I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Further to the comments of the shadow Leader of the House and his requests about business next week, will my right hon. and learned Friend take on board the fact that many Conservative Members would welcome a statement on Ethiopia because it would give us an opportunity to compliment the Government on their prompt action in these tragic circumstances by allocating £54 million in relief aid to Ethiopia this year and some 17,000 tonnes of food aid in response to the position as and when the need arises? My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the situation is not new ; it has existed for some time. Conservative Members have been asking intelligent questions for some time and my right hon. and learned Friend gave a full answer to a question on 19 October. Is it not sickening that the only time that the Opposition take an interest in the issue is when they see television coverage of it, in the hope that they may pick up a little credit by international ambulance chasing?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I had better not follow my hon. Friend too far down that path or I shall precipitate a debate myself. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that that topic has been constantly in the mind of, and has received effective action from, Her Majesty's Government during the many tragic years that it has persisted. It is right that it should be discussed by the House from time to time, and I shall bear that in mind.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House withdraw Tuesday's business, the Education (Student Loans) Bill, which many of us find extremely odious, and let us have a general debate on education so that we can describe how Tory-controlled Bradford Council is falling short on the repair and adequate maintenance of schools in a local authority which has 600 temporary classrooms and rising school rolls? We could then press the case for more expenditure on permanent extensions to schools to prevent, for example, the closure of three temporary classrooms and young children being bussed a round journey of eight miles at Buttershaw first school in my constituency.
Column 853but I am always ready to find an opportunity for the House to commend examples of Conservative success in Bradford.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week on the plans of several water companies, including Yorkshire Water, to introduce a flat-rate charge for water and sewerage--in effect, a water poll tax? How can it be right that a pensioner living in a small house with an outside toilet should pay the same for water and sewerage as a millionaire living in a mansion with 10 bathrooms and an indoor swimming pool? Will the Leader of the House force water companies to reveal to the public and to their consumers their plans in relation to the introduction of a water poll tax?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the objectives of the privatisation of the water industry is to diversify the methods by which charges are imposed for water consumption, including the possible use of meters as one method of apportioning charges fairly. I cannot respond more fully than that.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : May we have a statement early next week on the issue of compensation for the Christmas Island veterans? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have had an opportunity to study early-day motion 37 which concerns my constituent Mr. John Hall, who is suffering from leukaemia. [That this House condemns the Government's policy towards compensation for ex-servicemen, like Mr. John Hall of Belgrave, Leicester, who served on Christmas Island during the nuclear tests in the 1950s and who as a result of this are suffering from the effects of exposure to radiation ; and calls upon the Government to seize this opportunity to show compassion and justice by awarding substantial compensation to our Christmas Island veterans without further delay.]
The Leader of the House will also have heard the statement by the Under- Secretary of State for Defence Procurement this week. There is confusion about the circumstances in which compensation will be payable. Therefore, will he arrange for a statement next week so that the relevant Minister can be questioned on that important issue?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the case raised by the hon. Gentleman. The Government are ready to pay appropriate compensation whenever the Crown's legal liability is established, but we see no reason to make special compensation arrangements for test veterans.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read motion 12 on the Order Paper, which refers to the shipping of dangerous goods? Is he aware that in a recent Adjournment debate on that subject the Minister for Aviation and Shipping assured me that time would be given to debate that subject in the House. Will he find time as soon as possible for us to debate that serious subject?
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 98 on safety in the Channel tunnel? [That this House notes with deep concern the professional anxieties of the Fire Brigades Union regarding safety in the Channel Tunnel and accepts that hundreds, if not thousands, of lives would be at risk in the event of a deliberate or accidental fire or explosion in the tunnel ; therefore calls on the Eurotunnel Group to accept the principle of the segregation of vehicles and their passengers as a means of improving safety arrangements ; and calls upon the Government to initiate an urgent inquiry into the whole issue of safety in the Channel Tunnel with a view to preventing a major catastrophe.]
It has been signed spontaneously by 14 Members and no doubt, when we get organised, it will be signed by many more hon. Members on both sides of the House. It asks that there should be a division in the Channel tunnel between vehicles and their passengers. The Fire Brigades Union and many others find the present arrangements dangerous and want the Government to take a strong line on the matter. May we have a debate on the subject?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that a debate would be a useful way of ventilating that topic, whether or not the signatures to the early- day motion were spontaneous or organised. The proposed designs for the Channel tunnel must be approved by the intergovernmental commission, which itself is advised by the safety authority, which is an independent body. That should reassure the hon. Gentleman.
[That this House notes with concern the growing levels of inefficiency, unreliability and unpleasantness experienced by travellers on the London Underground ; agrees with the general condemnation of the Underground Service expressed by London honourable Members of all parties who responded in the recent opinion poll commissioned by London Transport ; and calls upon the Government to halt the descent into transport chaos in London by producing an integrated public transport strategy backed up with the necessary capital investment which will provide Londoners with the service they deserve and require.]
It sets out the extreme concern felt by my hon. Friends about the state of London's Underground system today. May we have an early debate on that subject, which concerns Londoners both inside and outside the House? When did the Leader of the House last travel on the Underground during the rush hour? Will he use what good offices he has left to entice the Prime Minister out of her bunker so that she can travel on the Underground once during the rush hour? If she did so, something would then be done.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I confess that I travel on the Underground during the rush hour or out of it less frequently than I used to do. I appreciate the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friends. The Government have taken a great deal of firm action to assist London Underground, and efforts are being made to improve its services. Investment is already at a record level. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced recently substantial increases in financial support for London
Column 855Regional Transport. In addition, the Jubilee line is to be extended at a cost of about £1 billion, which will bring additional benefits to those using the Underground.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : Will the Leader of the House explain in his own words why the matter of the Health Service in Wales has been subsumed in the main body of the National Health Serice and Community Care Bill? Are the Government trying to bury it, especially in the light of the admission by the Secretary of State for Wales that special considerations must be taken into account in respect of the Welsh Health Service?
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider the terms of early-day motion 95?
[That this House notes the considerable time that has elapsed since the Barlow Clowes collapse brought misery and worry for thousands of people, many of whom were elderly individuals who had placed their money in what they believed to be a safe
Government-approved investment, and who were shocked to discover its true nature ; hopes that early publication of the Ombudsman's report will clearly illuminate the events leading up to the collapse ; but notes that apportionment of blame and eventual repayment will come too late for people who should have been able to enjoy security and freedom from worry in their twilight years--some of whom, sadly, have already died--unless the Government now belatedly adopts the pro-active role urged by the Opposition by launching a lifeboat scheme and drawing together all those with a legitimate interest in the compensation of investors to achieve an early payout without further delay or unproductive litigation.]
Will he ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make an early statement on the Barlow Clowes scandal, and may we have a positive, proactive stance by the Government, which would give some hope to the many elderly people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering the effects of that company's collapse long after it was first brought to the attention of this House?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is difficult to respond to several substantive points together when dealing with the business of the House. As to the hon. Gentleman's second point, all right hon. and hon. Members share his concern about the implications of the collapse of Barlow Clowes. The draft report of the Parliamentary Commissioner is now being considered and will receive a response as soon as possible. It would not be appropriate for the House to debate that matter until the report has been finalised. However, clearly it is an important matter.
As to the Health Service in Wales, neither I nor anyone else can alter the Principality's constitutional status as it was established by Henry VIII. However, we can be assured that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will continue to take the energetic care that he always does of the Welsh Health Service.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) rose --
Mr. Holt : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on the request made by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for an education debate so that the House may discuss the Cleveland city technology college, which has been a great success despite the pernicious and vicious attitude of the local education authority, which even seeks to ban other schools from playing soccer against 10-year-olds?
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General into the sale ofRover Group to British Aerospace is to be the subject of a hearing by the Public Accounts Committee on 4 December. It would not therefore be normal practice for a statement on the subject to be made in the House in advance of that hearing. However, in the light of today's regrettable disclosure of a confidential memorandum submitted to the Committee, I feel under no such constraint.
The report focuses on three broad aspects of the sale. The first is the exclusivity of negotiation granted to BAe. I need not remind the House of the public controversy and uncertainty created by the 1986 discussions with the Ford Motor Company about its interest in acquiring Austin Rover. It had a serious, detrimental effect on the business, and the Rover board and the Government were determined that the handling of any future privatisation talks should take full account of that experience. Both were convinced that a public auction for the company would be commercially very damaging, and for that reason, following the approach by BAe, it was decided to grant exclusivity for a limited period to see whether a satisfactory agreement could be reached.
Secondly, the report questions the adequacy of the£150 million consideration eventually agreed. I should remind hon. Members of the historical background of Rover Group prior to privatisation. It had already cost the taxpayer £2.9 billion of public funds ; that money had been swallowed up in repeated losses while in public ownership. Moreover, the company was dependent on the assurances given by successive Governments in respect of its obligations to banks and trade creditors. That contingent liability on the taxpayer stood at £1.6 billion in March 1988 and was projected to rise over the corporate plan period, because the group's heavy capital expenditure programme outstripped cash generated by forecast trading profits. Thirdly, the report examines the way in which the negotiations with BAe should have been conducted. Conventional techniques of valuation were clearly inappropriate ; it was necessary to approach this as the sale of a going concern, and to strike a reasonable balance between the risks and opportunities confronting BAe as the potential new owners. In that context, I believe that the terms that were eventually agreed represented the best that could be achieved. Having dealt with the main issues in the NAO's published report, I shall now turn to the confidential memorandum. It is necessary here to recall the fundamental terms of the deal, and the process of their approval. For the business to be privatised successfully, the inheritance of its dismal trading record under public ownership had to be eliminated. In accordance with the state-aid procedures of the European Community, that necessitated exhaustive negotiations with the Commission of an appropriate package.
In July 1988, the Commission agreed a cash injection comprising £469 million in recognition of RG's historic debt, and £78 million in support of its future investment programme in the assisted areas. The Commission was prepared to sanction that aid because Rover Group would
Column 858henceforth be exposed to the full financial discipline of the market, and because its plans envisaged the elimination of surplus capacity.
When my noble Friend Lord Young disclosed those terms to British Aerospace, the company made it clear that a deal could not be struck on that basis. Four further items were therefore agreed with BAe. First, as BAe wanted to acquire 100 per cent. of the company, the Government agreed a grant of up to £9.5 million towards BAe's costs in buying out the small private shareholding. BAe subsequently bought out those shareholders on terms agreed by itself, Rover Group and their respective advisers to be fair and reasonable.
The second item was a payment of £1.5 million for Rover's privatisation costs. As it was, in effect, Her Majesty's Government who were causing RG to incur those costs, it was only right that Her Majesty's Government should pay them. The third was the waiver of an earlier £5 million contribution that BAe had volunteered towards the Columbus polar platform programme. In the event, that programme is now undergoing thorough revision, so the whole issue of an industrial contribution is being re- examined.
Finally, the Government agreed with BAe that the precise timing of the payment of the £150 million consideration would follow the clarification of certain tax matters. This delay was time-limited to 31 March 1990.
Those items were addressed where relevant in estimates and reports to Parliament. The Government fully recognised that these additional arrangements were material to the Public Accounts Committee investigation, and from the outset full details were volunteered to the National Audit Office.
The Government took the view that these concessions were essentially separate matters consistent with the terms of the Commission's approval. If the EC Commission now wishes to examine them, the Government will be happy to co-operate.
I believe that these arrangements were the least that were necessary to secure the successful transfer of the Rover Group to the private sector, which was essential for the future welfare of the Rover Group and those who work in it, as well as being the best deal available for the taxpayer.
Mr. Gordon Brown (Dunfermline, East) : Why were we not told until now about the additional subsidies of £38 million that were given to British Aerospace? Why did the Secretary of State have to be dragged to the House to make those admissions? How does he justify concealing the subsidies on the ground of commercial confidence when the commercial arrangement was not between British Aerospace and a private company but between British Aerospace and the British taxpayer? As it was £38 million of our money, did we not have a right to know?
As for the additional concealed subsidies, will the Secretary of State now confirm that they include offering to buy up to £9 million worth of shares in Rover only to give them back to British Aerospace for nothing ; £5 million for British Aerospace's subscription to the European Space Agency which has nothing to do with the Rover Group ; potentially £250 million as a reduction in the compensation payable if Rover were sold on in five years and even deferring the final date for payment for up to 18 months, knowing that a deferred price is a lower price?
Column 859Is not the real reason why the Government asked for details of the sale to be kept confidential not a commercial one, because the Minister has not made a commercial case, but the party political embarrassment that would be caused by the revelation of those subsidies?
In those circumstances, given the additional level of subsidy--£38 million--how could his Department have thought that there was no necessity even to inform the European Commission that those subsidies were paid? How can the Prime Minister tell other countries in good faith that they should abolish hidden subsidies before she joins the exchange rate mechanism when she has allowed exactly those hidden subsidies?
Now that the Comptroller has named four other companies that were interested in the Rover Group, and, according to the lunchtime news, one has said that it put its interest in writing, how can the Secretary of State defend the statement of the former Minister, Lord Young, that
"British Aerospace was the only company to approach me to buy Rover",
especially when we now know that Ministers were advised by their own advisers, Baring Brothers, that they should create a competitive market?
As we now know that most of Rover's debts were written off by the Government, that assets in shares in other companies were known by the Government to be worth more than £100 million, that surplus sites that were thrown in are are now worth more than £33 million and that Rover's forecasts were not for losses but for profits totalling £400 million over the next five years--money that could have gone to the taxpayer--how can the Secretary of State now justify selling Rover for only £150 million?
I want a direct answer to this question : is it right that, so far, little or nothing has yet been paid by British Aerospace despite the fact that British Aerospace has made substantial profits from Rover and has already sold assets worth £126 million? Is the issue not the past investment to make Rover profitable, but what the taxpayer and the public could have gained in future as a result of that public investment?
Finally, in those circumstances, how can the Minister possibly deny the serious charges of mismanagement, incompetence and a serious waste of national resources by the Government? Is it not the case that they were interested in privatising Rover at any price and at any cost rather than securing what is in the national interest? Is it not time for open government in this matter and is it not the case that our only hope for open government is a Labour Government?
Mr. Ridley : The items that I mentioned in my statement today were addressed, wherever relevant, in the estimates and reports to Parliament. Full details were made available to the Comptroller and Auditor General when he started his inquiries, as was completely correct. The House is not being told now ; the Public Accounts Committee was told before. Nor have I been dragged to the House. I volunteered to make the statement for the convenience of the House. I have made an open statement, so I reject any suggestion that I have sought to conceal anything.
British Aerospace wished to acquire 100 per cent. of the company. We were not in a position to sell it 100 per cent. of the company because there were minority shareholders. It was prefectly right and proper that we should have
Column 860enabled it to buy out those minority shareholders, because it was much more simple procedurally for it to do so than for the Government to do so directly.
The £5 million for the space project was nothing to do with the motor industry and therefore, in our opinion, nothing to do with the deal reached with the Commission.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) seems to be unaware that the reduction in the writing-off of debt, which the Commission insisted be made during negotiations with it, reflected itself in a reduction of what the company would have had to pay back in the event of a sale within five years of the assets and trademarks of the Rover Group. It was right that that figure should have been reduced commensurate with the reduction in the injection of cash made by the Government.
As I have told the House, we had reached agreement with the Commission when these additional items became necessary. The late payment was mentioned in the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on 14 July last year. We took the view that the other items to which I have referred were consistent with the Commission's terms, and that as they did not affect the competitiveness of the Rover Group's production disclosure was not necessary. Any question of reopening the procedure would have jeopardised the deal.
As to the last point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, far from being a rip-off, let me quote what the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said when the deal was announced by my right hon. and learned Friend. He said :
"How is it that British Aerospace has now accepted £250 million less than Ministers initially offered?"
The hon. Gentleman continued :
"Is it true that institutional shareholders have already been telephoning to express their objections?"--[ Official Report, 14 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 613.]
The allegation then was that we had screwed British Aerospace too hard. Now the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is saying that the deal was far too soft. The only conclusion that we can draw from that is that it is easy to be wise after the event and that the hon. Gentleman is suffering from an overdose of hindsight.
I should add that no payment has been received. British Aerospace has until the end of March next year.
Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is obvious from the rather synthetic annoyance of the Opposition that they cannot bear the fact that, because of the Government's successful policies, Rover is now a successful company in the private sector? When they were in office, all they did was pour more and more taxpayers' money into it, and it lost more and more year after year. We have been successful with it.
Is it not true that the financial terms agreed between Rover and British Aerospace were hugely advantageous for the taxpayer, who has been relieved of an enormous contingent liability of £1.8 billion? That must be to the advantage of the taxpayer.
Mr. Ridley : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The deal was of great advantage to the taxpayer in staunching the losses that the Rover Group had incurred. The deal was struck in July 1988, but the only deal that could have been done was one agreed by the buyer and seller. In this case, the buyer had grave doubts about whether it wished