Sir Peter turns the tables on MPs

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The Independent Online
Select committees are popular with MPS, allowing them to quiz various powerful figures and appear important to their constituents while doing so.

Imagine their discomfiture yesterday when the tables were turned by one of the ablest former mandarins, Sir Peter Middleton, now chairman of BZW and formerly permanent Secretary to the Treasury.

The Trade and Industry committee was questioning Sir Peter over nuclear privatisation, but this Whitehall veteran passed the inquisition with flying colours. Among his better Sir Humphreyisms were: "In 30 years in the Treasury I spent 15 years nationalising things and 15 years privatising them - largely for the same reasons."

The main reason, he added, was to increase efficiency. Getting into his stride, Sir Peter observed: "I always thought it was a very fine point about whether the Government controlled the nationalised industries, or the nationalised industries were controlling the Government." The dazzled MPs never stood a chance.

Foreign & Colonial Ventures, an otherwise blameless investment company, has produced a brochure to explain venture capital which reads like the sleeve notes from a Yoko Ono album.

"Think of F&C Ventures as blue, the client as yellow. They start off separately. Then a partnership forms. So what happens when you mix blue and yellow? You get green."

This point is illustrated by a blob of blue and a blob of yellow, and finally a nausea-inducing gobbit of green. The mantra continues: "Combining different people, different businesses, is like combining colours. You can add a little. Apply layers. Or blend completely. Inherent qualities always remain. Yet something new is born." A design firm called Barnes Vereker were responsible for this cobblers.

Much has been written about the collapse of Fokker, the Dutch aircraft maker. It has taken Lord Tebbit, to put his finger on the true cause; the move to European Monetary Union.

The former minister told their Lordships yesterday that while civil aircraft are priced in dollars, the Dutch guilder is tied to the mark. He said this caused the financial crisis at Fokker, and the threat to jobs at Bombardier's Short Brothers' factory in Belfast.

It is just as well Lord Tebbit was not asked to comment on a European Union plan revealed yesterday to spend part of a pounds 4.8m scheme on prostitutes in Vienna. The scheme is aimed at ending "social exclusion" with projects which range from helping the prostitutes to supporting London's homeless.

"Helping prostitutes is a perfectly legitimate thing for us to be doing. They are victims of social exclusion," said a Commission spokesman. Tell that to Lord Tebbit - and stand well back.

Scottish Nuclear, the power company that generates about half Scotland's electricty, is designing its own tartan. Tour guides at the company's Torness and Hunterston power stations will wear the specially- designed outfits as part of the company's "Come and See" programme. Bill Doig, director of production at Torness, said the company looked at a number of ways to reinforce its separate identity before deciding on its own tartan. " ... we feel that a tartan in the Scottish Nuclear corporate colours of red and blue will get across the message to visitors that we are a Scots company with a strong identity and successful track record." Mr Doig obviously didn't anticipate tasteless Sassenach jokes along the lines of "that'll get your sporran glowing", and the like.