The reality is that the Minister's nominees on the board know precisely whether it is any good of a credit institution. They will have known precisely from 15 January onwards what last year's figures would be. They are well aware of their general trading position.
The outstanding feature is the treatment of bad debts and the policy issues in relation thereto. Bad debts and their treatment in accounts, of course, is a variable thing, an art of sorts. I accept all that but I want to know — shorn of all the decisions as to how they should be treated in terms of accounting — what is the substance of this corporation's financial position at present. I think that information is available to the Minister and that he is reluctant to reveal to the House what information is available to him. If it is not available to him, it ought to be because he has members nominated on that board. If he is not aware of the contending different accounting policies in relation to provision for bad debts, which may or may not show different results depending on how the auditors apply their independent judgment to the matter, he ought to be aware of those things because he has nominees on the board. I do not accept for one moment that it is good enough for the Minister to come in here and say, "this is a routine matter, give me authority to capitalise this company further; I do not know anything until the audited accounts of this corporation are made available; I cannot tell you anything about their present financial state". The Minister is doing something different. He is coming to this House seeking additional capital authorisation which means he is effectively seeking to float additional shares in a corporation. It is this House, as opposed to the general public, which will decide whether such authorisation should be given. I reiterate that it is wrong to ask any Legislature — no matter how modest that country's means may be, no matter how humble the Members of that Legislature may feel about themselves — to authorise additional capitalisation of a company when they do not know how solvent or insolvent that company is, when they do not know in what respects the company's accounts give rise to any legitimate, rational hope that the company will ever be profitable.
I appeal to other parties in this House to make this point to the Minister at the end of March following the year end for which accounts are being prepared, when the substance of those accounts must be available. It is not good enough for a Minister to come to this House seeking further capital authorisation at a time when the real picture — shorn of how it will be dressed up by its auditors — is clearly available to somebody, to the board members, the people who report to the Minister.
I suggest that the Minister does know the real position of this company. He ought to know. I would be very surprised if somebody of his calibre was unaware of the real position of this company. I think he has chosen not to reveal to this House the real position of this company because he is using the non-availability of audited accounts as an excuse for avoiding dealing with its real position. He owes this House a duty — when he comes for authority seeking to invest further capital in a company — not to give 18 month-old information as to how the capital in a company — not to give 18-mation. Nobody would float shares in any stock market on the basis of what a company might have been doing 18 months ago when all the financial correspondents were saying that, in the meantime, it had hit very choppy waters. Nobody would do that. If we are ever to bring commercial reality to anything we do with money I do not see why this House should make the same mistake as has been made before, and, doubtless, will be made in relation to other State companies.
I want to make it clear that we should not vote any authority to the State to put further capital into this company unless we are satisfied that they need further capitalisation and that there is some strategy, as Deputy Bruton mentioned, as to where this company will be in five years time. Do we want an agricultural bank? I suggest we should not have a bank solely designed to deal with agriculture. Do we want them to be wholly owned by the State? I suggest we do not. Do we want to be in the position in five years time of having another Minister standing up with a begging bowl of capitalisation in front of him demanding that we give him authority to prop up this institution by putting taxpayers' money into it yet again?
If they are facing into losses — and it seems from the Minister's statement he is at least now conceding the ACC are heading into significant losses, whatever they are, — and if all of their authorised capital has been paid up, it is clear that this £15 million will be used effectively to pay funds into a loss-making company in order keep them solvent or going. I want to know if it is worthwhile keeping them going. I have heard no argument that has been addressed to that proposition by the people who have the responsibility of convincing this House that it is worthwhile keeping them going. Is it worthwhile keeping going a company without any long-term strategic view as to where they are going and, say, in the context of the Single European Act, as to whether they have any future?
I did not contribute on the last section because I did not think it was worth while going into what the ACC do with their money but I want to remark that it is naïve to believe that a company who cannot make a fist of one thing and have no expertise in another area are going to rescue themselves by diversifying into areas where they have no proven track record. That is naïve. I do not see here any strategy for recovery of the ACC and, therefore, we should not, in the present circumstances, give them any further moneys.
I am not talking at present about the extent of the guarantees because that is a separate issue and it will come up in the next section but I do say that no argument has been made for the further capitalisation of this company. I mean this seriously, when I say the Minister is failing in his duty to this House to tell us now in clear and unequivocal terms the real position of this company. It is wrong that I am being told to wait for the audited accounts. That is wrong. It should not affect the Minister's attitude to the issue and it should not affect my attitude if the Minister has to come to me and other Members of this House for co-operation on this issue.
I want to know what the position of this company is now and what their trading position is now, not 18 months ago when they were deteriorating but now before I decide how to exercise my vote on this issue. I am indicating to the Minister that unless he indicates in fairly substantial terms the financial position of the ACC we will oppose this section and the next section so as to get across the proposition that there should not be capitalisation of companies whose records give rise to considerable cause for doubt. A blank cheque should not be signed and given to the Minister in these circumstances. He has an equivalent and corresponding duty to give us up-to-date information but he is not doing so. This business of talking about the audited accounts is a smokescreen to save that company from the embarrassment of their present position.
The Minister could very easily say that at the end of 1987 their position was this, that if you take one view of the bad debt provision their losses could be so many million pounds and if you take a more stringent view the losses could be so many more million pounds. He could tell us that is the nature of the company he is asking the House to put further capital into, that that is how he sees that company recovering. We have had none of that: in fact, we have had the precise opposite. We have had obfuscation, with the greatest of respect. This is not a routine matter in terms of the timing of the measure. I suggest that the Minister must come clean on this issue and now tell us everything he knows about the up-to-date financial position of this company.