§ Mr. Chetwynd
I beg to move, in page 14, line 23, to leave out "but not relating directly to," and to insert "including."
1227 I had a very powerful speech ready for this Amendment, but then I noticed the Amendment in the name of the Minister to line 30, to leave out "such," and to insert:(a) such information relating to the costs of production of any products to which section seven of this Act applies as may reasonably be required by the Board for the purposes of their functions under this Act or by the Minister for the purposes of his functions under this Act, or(b) such other.I wish to ask why the Minister has agreed to do something he was so adamant that he could not do when we were in Committee. In view of that Amendment, I wish to ask why the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to give way on subsection (2) but not on subsection (1)? It seems to me that the Amendment I have moved is a much clearer way of getting to the same end in subsection (1) than the Amendment to be moved by the Minister, but I moved my Amendment in order to safeguard his Amendment to subsection (2). If we have the right to get information, I do not see how we can get that information without including information on costs of production.
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the House if we were also to discuss my Amendment to page 14, line 30. If so, I should answer the hon. Member and at the same time explain the reason for my Amendment.
§ Mr. Sandys
As I understand it, the Opposition are anxious that the Board should have all necessary information relating to costs of production. I do not accept that I was opposed to the provision so adamantly as the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) suggested. I made clear on an earlier occasion that to a large extent the information could be obtained under the Clause as it stands, but, in order to make sure, I have tabled this Amendment.
As it stands, the Bill empowers the Board to obtain all the information it might require for fixing prices. That is the most likely purpose for which the 1228 Board may require information about costs. However, as was pointed out by several hon. Members in Committee, the Board might in certain circumstances require information about costs for other purposes than price-fixing; for example, under Clause 3. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).
In this Amendment I have tried to meet the precise criticism which was made. The Amendment will enable the Board to obtain information about costs not only for price-fixing, but for all purposes under the Bill. There are two differences between my Amendment and the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees. Under the hon. Member's Amendment all iron and steel products would be brought within the scope of this Clause. The Board would be able to obtain information about costs of all iron and steel products for any purpose.
My Amendment excludes foundry and forge products for reasons which I explained earlier. We wish to avoid as far as possible placing an undue burden of paper work upon small foundry firms, some of which employ only a few men in a back yard and have no clerical organisation to deal with inquiries which might arise in this connection. These foundry and forge products are excluded so long as they are not brought within the scope of Clause 7, when they would be treated in the same way as any other iron and steel product in the Third Schedule.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees asked why this was put into subsection (2) and not in subsection (1). By inserting this reference to cost in the second subsection instead of the first we have met a point to which we attach importance. Had we done what the hon. Member suggested, we should have deprived the Board of the right to require that this information be certified by auditors.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am satisfied with the explanation of the Minister, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1229
Amendments made: In page 14, line 27, at end, insert:
(2) The Board shall so exercise their powers under the preceding subsection as to secure that, in such cases as may be defined by notice in writing, if any iron and steel producer, one of whose main activities forms part of the iron and steel industry, proposes to close down any works of substantial size used by him for the purpose of any activity forming part of the iron and steel industry, or any substantial group of production facilities in any such works as aforesaid, he shall inform the Board of the proposals as early as practicable.
§ In page 14, line 30, leave out "such," and insert:
- (a) such information relating to the costs of production of any products to which section seven of this Act applies as may reasonably be required by the Board for the purposes of their functions under this Act or by the Minister for the purposes of his functions under this Act, or
- (b) such other.—[Mr. Sandys.]
§ Mr. G. Darling
I beg to move, in page 14, line 36, at the end, to insert:(3) The Board or the Minister may by notice in writing require any organisation representative of iron and steel producers to furnish to the Board or, as the case may be, to the Minister, such information as may reasonably be required by the Board for the purposes of their functions under this Act or by the Minister for the purpose of his functions under this Act; and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing such information may consist of or include information as to the amount, incidence, purpose and expenditure of any levy or other contribution imposed, collected or received by or through the organisation on or from iron and steel producers or any group of iron and steel producers.We have had a number of discussions about the powers granted to the Board to obtain information and about the limits to be set to the scope of that information. I do not wish to go over the ground again. What we are asking in this Amendment is that the powers of the Board to obtain information be extended to trade associations, as well as to companies engaged in iron and steel production, so that the Board shall be able to carry out their duties effectively. In particular, we think it important that information should be obtained from the Iron and Steel Federation.
This is a reasonable request, because most of the information the Board will need will be obtained in the normal course of the Federation's activities. Research and the collection of information is one of the Federation's main tasks. I am sure that the House would agree that 1230 it would be wrong for the Board to set up another fact-finding agency. The only point which we wish to cover is the unlikely event in which the Federation refuses to divulge to the Board the facts which it collects from the industry when the Board makes a normal request.
In those circumstances, we think it would be quite wrong if, in the case of the Federation withholding information which was wanted by the Board, the Board should have to do the job themselves, thereby duplicating all the services and wasting a lot of time and money. We therefore suggest that it is reasonable to ask that the Board should have the right to use the Federation's fact-finding services in just the same way as the Board have the right to collect information from the companies engaged in the industry.
We also suggest in this Amendment that, in particular, the Board ought to have the right to obtain information about the levies which the Federation imposes on the industry. This opens a wider subject, which we have discussed before in Committee, and I must say that I have been rather surprised and somewhat shocked by the views expressed by the Minister and some of his hon. Friends in these Committee discussions. Their view has been that trade associations can do what they like; they can raise money how they like and spend the money which they raise how they choose; if they choose, they can keep the accounts secret, and there is no reason why they should publish the accounts. The Minister himself said in Committee, and I quote him:I really do not see why either the Board or Parliament should require to know how money raised by a trade association is spent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 1281.]The right hon. Gentleman was referring to employers' trade associations. If he had been referring to workers' trade associations, he would have been inviting those associations to break the law, because the law as it affects workers' trade associations is very strict. The workers' trade associations have to render public account of the levies which they make and the contributions which they receive, and show how their income is spent. We are not complaining about the strict legal provisions as far as they affect workers' trade associations. We accept them, and we do not want to alter them, because we 1231 think that these trade union laws are very satisfactory.
We do say, however, that the same laws ought to apply to employers' associations. I know that I would be out of order if I pursued that matter much further, because it is outside the scope of this Bill, but, with permission, perhaps I may add one sentence to express the hope that the matter will be dealt with by the next Labour Government.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), in the course of the discussion in Committee, appreciated this point, because he said, and I quote him:… any voluntary organisation, association, trade union or body of people has to raise levies, I concede that what we have to be satisfied about is that those levies are not excessive and that the use of the money is a reasonable and proper one for the conduct of the association or federation."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 18th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 1275.]I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot be satisfied that all levies are reasonable and well spent unless the particular associations concerned publish their accounts. We cannot ask for that in this Bill, but we can give the Board the right to find out how the Federations levies are raised and how they are spent.
§ Mr. Darling
That is a far-fetched view to put forward about the iron and steel industry, because the services rendered to the industry by the Federation are such that none of the companies within the industry would like to be without its services.
We suggest that the Federation should be treated as the trade unions are treated, although, as I have said, I should be out of order in developing that point. We are asking that the information about the Federation's funds and its levies should be made known to the Board. I am not discussing the industrial fund in particular. In Committee, the Minister suggested that the Board would be able to get information about the balancing fund in so far as it affected the fixing of prices. We think that the information should go 1232 much further than that, particularly with regard to the special levies about which no information, so far as I know, has ever been given by the Federation.
We must bear in mind that the Federation collects something like £800,000 a year by these levies, which is a considerable sum. I think the Board ought to know just what the Federation does with that money. Some very vague statements have been made about it in the course of our discussions. It has been suggested that it is used for research and training, and the hon. Member for Esher even mentioned pensions. But so far as I know there is no evidence that the £800,000 a year is used for the provision of pensions generally in the industry. Neither is there any evidence that the money is spent on education and training. We appreciate how it is spent on statistical research, but I am sure that expenditure does not account for the whole £800,000.
It has been suggested that part of the levies is used for political purposes, and that has not been denied. I do not wish to argue whether it is right or wrong for this or any other trade association to use its income for political purposes, but I do say that if the political activities of workers' associations are restricted by law, it is wrong that employers' associations should not also be so restricted.
It is not only a matter of the trade unions. During the Committee stage, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) quite rightly pointed out that Co-operative societies spend money for political purposes. But under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, the Co-operative societies have to render a full account in public of all their income and expenditure, and I think that the same kind of laws ought to apply to all trade associations.
We do not think that the Iron and Steel Federation ought to be in a privileged position in the matter. If, under this Bill, we cannot ask for the income and expenditure of the Federation to be made public in detail in the same way as trade unions and Co-operative societies funds are made public, we say that its income and expenditure should at least be known to the Board. If the right hon. Gentleman and his party wish to avoid trouble in this issue they will accept this Amendment. It would be easy for the right hon. 1233 Gentleman to do so because I believe the Federation gave an undertaking to the Iron and Steel Corporation that they would produce information about their levies and about the expenditure of the income from those levies every six months.
I hope that the undertaking has not been scrapped under the new set-up. If it has been scrapped, it will look very sinister. It will look as though the Federation, having been requested by the nationalised industry to divulge information, will now revert to their status as a secret society under this Bill, which is supposed to provide for public supervision of the industry. It will look doubly sinister if the right hon. Gentleman defends this objectionable secrecy while insisting that trade unions and cooperative societies must render to the public a full account of their affairs.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I beg to second the Amendment.
I only want to add a few words to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) raised at the end of his speech concerning the agreement between the Iron and Steel Corporation and the Federation. It was a kind of working agreement covering a large number of points, one of which was that the Federation would divulge to the Corporation every six months the income and expenditure of the special fund. I tried to put a Question on the Order Paper to find out what happened to that fund, but the matter was not within the Minister's responsibility and I was unsuccessful. But I should think that the Minister has that information at his disposal. It would help us in discussing this Amendment if he could give some details of income and expenditure so that the answer to our worst fears may be brought out into the open.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak before the Minister replies, because I want to make some remarks to which the Minister may be willing to refer when he addresses the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) has explained with admirable clarity and, indeed, restraint the purpose for which we put this Amendment on the Order Paper. In 1234 doing so, my hon. Friend referred only incidentally to possible expenditure for political purposes, to which we devoted a good deal of time in Committee. I do not want to refer again to that subject, since we discussed it at some length last time and my hon. Friend has again asked pertinent questions about it.
I would remind the Minister that during the Committee stage I suggested that, for all we know, it may be that some of the money raised by the Federation by this levy may be expended on the furtherance of monopolistic practices. So intense was the interest in the question of political expenditure that when the Minister replied to the debate he did not refer at all to what I said on that occasion. Perhaps he will do so this time.
After all, right hon. Gentleman opposite admit definitely and clearly the possibility of monopolistic practice in the iron and steel industry. It would be very surprising if they did not in view of the long history of that industry with which we are all familiar. They have recognised the possibility to some slight degree in their Bill. They have put into one Clause a reference to the Monopolies Commission. It is a very brief and fleeting reference of a rather negative character, but during speeches on Second Reading and other stages of the Bill the Minister frequently claimed that he can safeguard the consumer from the possibilities of monopolistic practice in this industry because he has at his call the Monopolies Commission.
We are not satisfied that that is an adequate safeguard to the consumer in view of the curious procedure which obtains with regard to references to the Monopolies Commission. One has to be aware of a good deal of restrictive practice before one can ask the Commission to look into the matter, and experience has shown that the investigation by that Commission takes a great deal of time.
If the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are to extend the purview of the Commission to the whole of the nationalised industries they may take even longer over any one investigation. Yet apparently that is all the Minister intends to do, because when we suggested that some provision might be necessary to require some safeguard for the equitable 1235 distribution of the products of the industry he was not willing to consider it.
I suggest that long before he refers anything to the Monopolies Commission he should satisfy himself whether something about which he ought to know is not going on under his own nose. He should not wait until the results have come to pass and then refer the matter to the Commission. Would it not be better if he were to find out, by the process suggested in my hon. Friend's Amendment, whether the Federation spend some of their money on the furtherance of monopolistic practices?
The Federation are a remarkable and most efficient body and they can produce very effective results. When I was Paymaster-General and had some responsibility in regard to the distribution of iron and steel I found that provided the Federation were given about six months' notice they could ensure, in the iron and steel products at the end of that period, exactly the range which was required. If one told them that six months hence one required rather more building steel and rather less railway steel, or rather more shipbuilding steel and rather less of some other kind of steel—down to details of types and kinds of steel—the Federation would produce it.
They have very great powers over the detailed workings of the industry and they have ways and means of doing these things, and we should like to be sure that when the industry is returned to private ownership these undoubtedly efficient ways and means are not used in any way against the public interest. I ask the Minister to address himself to the question whether or not the funds raised by the Federation through their levy might be used to further monopolistic practices and, if the answer is in the affirmative, whether—apart from any other consideration—he should not ensure that his Board can inform themselves in detail how the money is raised and spent.
§ Mr. Sandys
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not follow him in all the points he has raised, some of which are outside the scope of this Amendment, but I hope to give him some of the information for which he asks.
This Amendment divides itself into two parts. The first provides that the Board 1236 shall be able to require trade associations to supply them with information which they obtain from their members. Whilst I do not imagine there is anything very secret or embarrassing about that type of information, the Board could obtain it from precisely the same sources as those from which the trade associations obtain it. It would constitute a complete duplication of functions.
Personally, I am inclined to think that the Board would do well to establish fairly direct contacts with iron and steel producers themselves, and not to rely upon getting information secondhand from trade associations. However, that will be for the Board to decide. I do not think we ought to encourage the Board to regard trade associations, important and useful as they are, as being an absolutely vital element in the organisation upon which they rely. However, I have no doubt that there will be not the slightest difficulty in the Board's obtaining information of this kind from associations, if it is more convenient to obtain it in that way. There can be no possible objection, because this is information which the Board are entitled to obtain directly from the firms which provide that information to the trade associations.
The second part of the Amendment concerns information about contributions to or levies raised by the trade associations. I believe that this is what interests hon. Members opposite most. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) used the expression "sinister." Other expressions have been used—"mystery," and so on—to describe this particular expenditure. When we talk about organisations representing the iron and steel producers, there is, as far as I can understand from listening to our debates on the subject, only one organisation in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and that is the one they describe as "Steel House." They talk of it almost as though it were the Brown House at Munich.
§ Mr. Sandys
What I would ask them to remember is that there are many other trade associations which come within this sphere, but for the moment, since, as I say, that is the matter that most whets the appetite of hon. Members opposite, I 1237 shall confine myself to the question of contributions raised by the British Iron and Steel Federation from its members. Now, the levies which are raised by the Federation are of two kinds. The first is concerned with equalising prices. That is known as the Industry Fund and is used to equalise prices of imported materials and the costs of using scrap and pig iron in the production of steel. The Industry Fund is regulated on a basis which was the subject of an agreement between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and the Federation, and its accounts are readily available to the Government at all times. Full information is available. There is no mystery whatsoever about that.
The other part of the levy—and here we come to the part which really does excite hon. Members opposite—is known as the special levy, and has been referred to on previous occasions as the Is. a ton levy or the political levy. The special 1s. a ton levy covers a number of things. I have taken the trouble to obtain information from the Federation since our last debate, or, to be more accurate, the Federation have taken the trouble to approach me and have said that they would like me to be better informed about their levy than I was previously.
As I have said, this levy covers a number of things—general administrative expenses, the compilation of statistics, expenditure in connection with scrap-collection, training schemes, certain capital expenditure and also public relations. I am going to be very forthcoming in regard to this information. The Board have no power to obtain any information about any of these things; nor have the Government at the present time. That does not mean to say that it is not possible to get this information or that it is not freely given.
This information—let me be clear about this—in regard to the special levy or in regard to any other levy for that matter, as I explained in the earlier debate, is really not, in my view, the direct concern of the Board. It does not affect the functions of the Board and, therefore, would not come under the provisions of this Amendment unless it related to 1238 information which the Board required for the discharge of their duty.
In my belief it will be primarily, if not exclusively, in relation to price fixing that the Board will need to obtain information about the expenditure of the Federation or of any other trade association. As I explained earlier, if producers wish expenditure which they have incurred by way of a contribution to a trade association, to be taken into account in fixing prices, then, it will be up to them to satisfy the Board that the expenditure should rightly be included in the assessment of their costs of production.
Therefore, there will in fact be no difficulty, in my view, in obtaining all the information which will be needed by the Board to fix prices. It is in the interests of the iron and steel producers to provide that information, otherwise the Board will not allow for that in assessing the cost of production. But we have to keep a sense of proportion in the whole matter. A shilling a ton, when steel costs an average of £30 a ton, obviously is not going to make a very big difference to the price of steel or to the profits or the financial position of the iron and steel companies.
It has been alleged, not today but on an earlier occasion when we discussed this matter, that we were resisting this Amendment because we were under such heavy pressure from our masters in Steel House. I have on more than one occasion firmly denied that any pressure has been put upon me in regard to this Bill by the Iron and Steel Federation at Steel House. I have now to make a confession to the House.
Some pressure is being put upon me, and it is being put upon me by Steel House. Hon. Members may be surprised to know that the pressure being put upon me is that I should accept an Amendment somewhat in the sense proposed by the Opposition.
The Federation have sent me full particulars of the expenditure of the special levy. They undoubtedly feel that what has been said in the House about the levy has given a distorted impression of their activities and that it is in the general interest for the matter to be clarified. In view of the wild rumours and unfair allegations which have been made, I 1239 propose to give this information to the House.
I have before me the details—I hope this will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand)—of the way in which the Federation has spent the 1s. per ton levy in 1952. It covers what I should describe as external relations. This totals £19,000, the equivalent of about a farthing per ton on steel, and it is made up as follows: works visits by representatives of the technical Press and other similar activities, £3,500; preparation and publication of the Federation's quarterly reports and annual reports, £2,000; subscriptions to other bodies—the British Employers Confederation, the Federation of British Industries, the Council of Building Material Producers and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a very respectable body£7,300; and general publicity, mainly in connection with training, research and recruitment, £6,200. That adds up to £19,000. Thus, in 1952 nothing, or an entirely negligible sum, could in any way be regarded as being spent on political purposes.
§ Mr. Sandys
It was the calendar year 1952. However, in order to be absolutely fair, I must tell the House that the Federation have pointed out to me that, since the beginning of 1953, they have produced a pamphlet entitled "Policy for Steel," which they claim—I have not examined the document—is almost entirely an answer to attacks which have been made upon either themselves or the record of the steel industry. They have spent a few hundred pounds on the preparation, publication and circulation of the pamphlet.
§ Mr. G. Darling
The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman total less than £20,000. What has the Federation done with the remaining £780,000?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Will the right hon. Gentleman at the same time give the figures for the previous year when the General Election took place, because a contribution to "Aims of Industry" was alleged?
§ Mr. Sandys
I was dealing with public relations. Someone asked what that was 1240 all about, and I thought I had better give the details. If hon. Members are interested, I will give details of the remainder.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I were to give the details of how the 1s. is made up. Salaries, rents and administrative expenses represent 3½d.; statistical compilation and publication, 1½d.; scrap drive publicity, Id.; training scheme organisation, ¾d.; reserve for capital expenditure, which includes the construction of ships for carrying ore and so on, 2½d.; external relations—that is the point I have just examined in detail—¼d.; and the remaining 2½d. which goes to make up the 1s. is for taxation. I hope that in giving those figures it will disperse the cloud of mystery which has appeared to surround this Fund.
§ Mr. Sandys
I have not got the figures for 1951, but I have given hon. Members details for a complete calendar year. Since then, as I pointed out, there was an expenditure of a few hundred pounds on the pamphlet I mentioned. No apologies are needed by any organisation for activities of this kind. I am merely stating facts. One of the objects in the articles of association of the Iron and Steel Federation, like most trade associations, is to promote, support or oppose legislation and, therefore, it is perfectly proper for them, as a trade association, to express their views on such matters.
In so far as there is political expenditure, it would not come within the scope of the Amendment moved by hon. Members opposite, which refers to information reasonably required for the Board in the discharge of their duties. Clearly the Board would not require to know about expenditure of a political character in order to carry out their duties, but the fact that the Federation have expressed a desire to see a provision of this kind introduced into the Bill is sufficient evidence that they intend and wish to provide the Board with any information that they may require.
The only reason why I hesitate to give effect to the wishes of hon. Members opposite is that they talk about Steel House and the Iron and Steel Federation as though they were the only body concerned. There are many other trade 1241 associations which would be affected if the Amendment were adopted. I have a list of some of them here, but there are quite a number of others. I should like to read to hon. Members a few examples of the associations which would come within the scope of the Amendment if adopted in this form.
Apart from the Federation and the Council of Iron Producers, the Council of Ironfounders Associations and others would be brought in because foundries and forges are within the scope of the Bill. The other associations would include such organisations as the Cast Iron Axlebox Association, the Cast Iron Chair Association, the British Internal Combustion Engine Manufacturers' Association, the British Engineers' Association, the Locomotive Manufacturers' Associations of Great Britain, the Railway Carriage and Wagon Building Association, the Machine Tool Trades Association, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Pump Manufacturers' Association, the Agricultural Engineers' Association, the British Compressed Air Society, the Association of Crane Makers, the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, and the Metallic Bedstead Manufacturers' Association.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Darling
The Clause, as we propose it, would be permissive. Obviously, the Board would not write round to all those people about iron and steel production. They would go to the Federation which deals with the iron and steel producers.
§ Mr. Sandys
It might be permissive, but it might be very alarming for the bedstead manufacturers to see themselves brought into the Bill without their knowledge.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I was fascinated by that list. I do not think that making iron and steel is quite as easy as one sometimes thinks. Does that mean that the iron and steel producers contribute to all those bodies and that they all raise a levy for the bedstead manufacturers?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not suppose that the bedstead manufacturers would take that lying down. The Amendment as it is drafted, includes much more than information about levies, as the hon. and 1242 learned Gentleman will see if he looks at it. The Iron and Steel Federation have said that they would be very happy to see a Clause of this kind in the Bill, but the Amendment would cover a much wider field and I would not feel disposed without going into the matter much more closely, to accept it hastily. I am in sympathy with the proposal, because the fewer mysteries there are in these matters the better it is for all concerned.
I have given the House a good deal of information about this vexed question. I will try to go further. If hon. Gentlemen opposite can see their way to withdraw the Amendment, I, on my side, but without making a firm promise, because this is not so simple as it appears, will undertake to look into this problem closely in the spirit in which I have spoken this evening and to see whether it is possible to introduce a satisfactory Amendment. If it is, I will try to make arrangements for that to be done in another place.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
The right hon. Gentleman has been particularly forthcoming this evening. His speech was really an argument in favour of our Amendment. He showed us that it was very easy to produce these figures. There is no secrecy about them—anyhow, there is no secrecy about them in a year when there is no election. It is easy to show how much money was spent by the Iron and Steel Federation for political purposes. The right hon. Gentleman says that the wording of our Amendment is awkward because it would cover a large number of organisations, which might be alarmed at having to give a great deal of information. That is not a valid argument. I do not think there are many organisations or associations which impose a levy on the production of iron and steel. If there is more than one, I am certain that the Board would not want to make many inquiries from them.
What we have in mind is clear. I must repeat the reasons for which we are asking for this information. We say that the industrial fund is of the greatest importance in the iron and steel industry. Through the industrial fund just on £100 million was re-distributed among various producers in the industry last year. Nearly £100 million, and a quarter of the cost of the basic product, the steel ingot, is levy.
1243 It is possible to alter the incidence of the levy without affecting final prices. For example, it would be possible to make those producers who use scrap pay 10s. or £1 more a ton and reduce the amount paid by those who use pig iron by a corresponding amount with no effect on the final prices. Therefore, we say that apart from price-fixing it is essential that the Board should be given full information about the levies by the iron and steel industry so that they can use their influence, if necessary, to get the levy varied. How the levy falls has a life and death effect on the individual units and plants in the industry.
Secondly, in regard to the special levy of 1s., about which the right hon. Gentleman has given us much valuable information, there is a lot of suspicion about it. It is a huge sum of money. Nearly £1 million a year goes to Steel House and up till now we have not known how and on what it has gone. In view of the political arena in which the Iron and Steel Federation has existed for a long time, there is a great deal of suspicion, whether justified or not we do not know, about the amount of money used by Steel House for political purposes, particularly at Election time, out of the fund raised by the 1s. a ton levy on all steel products. We still do not know the answer.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he will endeavour to meet our request and will see whether it is possible, between now and the time the Bill goes to another place, to carry out by an Amendment there what we have in mind. Before I can say that such a proposal is acceptable to us, I must ask one or two questions. Obviously, I have not had time to consult my colleagues since the proposal has only just been put to us by the right hon. Gentleman.
Is the Minister trying to meet our proposal, first, that the Federation—isolated for this purpose from other trade associations—shall disclose to the Board whenever called upon to do so, twice a year or whenever there is a change in the industrial levy, all the information which it may have about that levy and its incidence; and that that information shall be given to the Board by the Federation before any change takes place, so that the Board will always know what is proposed and will then be able to use 1244 their influence if they think necessary in preventing or modifying such a proposal?
Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman further prepared, by the Amendment which he has in mind, to ensure that the Board or the Federation—we do not mind which—publishes annually a statement such as was given to us this evening by the Minister of Supply showing how the special levy of 1s. a ton is disposed of? He has told us the figures for the last year and I agree that they are perfectly innocent. However, I took grave exception to the document published by the Iron and Steel Federation early this year, a political document which seeks to ridicule statements which my colleagues on this side of the House have made from time to time about the steel industry. It sets out to ridicule the opposition to the Iron and Steel Bill and it is wrong that such a political document should be published by the Federation.
In short, we want to know how much of this money is used yearly for political purposes. Is the industry spending in Election year, a quarter of a million or half a million pounds in support of the Conservative Party? It has been suggested that that sort of thing does happen. We do not know.
If the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that he will undertake to do his best—I cannot see what the difficulty would be—to ensure that there is published yearly, either by the Board, or by the Federation, an account of how that special levy is used, in as detailed a manner as the Minister has given us tonight—and if it can be published for 1952 there is no reason why it should not be published for any future year, or, for that matter, for any past year, which might prove very interesting—and also the industrial fund in ample time before it is varied, we would withdraw the Amendment because that would meet all that we ask.
If the Minister seriously does his utmost to achieve that, there could be no difficulty about it. The only difficulty there might be is the opposition of his political colleagues in another place or from Steel House, but there could be no technical difficulty. If the right hon. Gentleman undertakes to try to do as I suggest, we will take it that he has accepted the arguments which have been put forward, 1245 and we would withdraw our Amendment and look forward to seeing the Amendment he proposes to introduce in another place.
§ Mr. Sandys
Perhaps I can make the position absolutely clear. What I shall try to do is to find an appropriate form of words after examining the difficulties which I have explained: namely, the very wide range of associations which might be involved. I should not be prepared to put forward an Amendment which would bring in so many organisations, and I think the right hon. Gentleman recognises that that is reasonable. If some way can be found of including only the principal association concerned with the iron and steel industry, I propose to see whether an Amendment can be framed which will deal with expenditure roughly on the basis of the second half of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
As I explained, I am not prepared to encourage the duplication of the collection of the general information referred to in the first part of the Amendment and which the Board can get from producers. The second part of the Amendment deals with the expenditure in which, I understand, hon. Gentlemen opposite are mainly interested, and I will try to do as I have said. I repeat again that this is without any firm promise but with every good intention.
§ Mr. Gower
I am sorry, but I am speaking for no more than a minute. Those of us who were present during the Committee stage will recall the fantastic statements made on the other side. Hon. 1246 Members opposite created in their imagination a lion and they have found a lamb.
As my right hon. Friend quite clearly stated, he has given a very clear description of the figures. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) asserted that this could be done in a non-election year but not in an election year, forgetting that the Minister has promised to study the possibilities of giving such figures in any year, either present or future. My right hon. Friend is to be commended for the action he has taken.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I beg to move, in page 14, line 36, at the end, to insert:(3) For the purposes of verifying or amplifying any information or forecast furnished by an iron or steel producer to the Board or to the Minister under either of the preceding subsections of this section, the Board or, as the case may be, the Minister, may by notice in writing require that iron and steel producer to provide facilities for the inspection by any person authorised by the Board or, as the case may be, by the Minister, of any property of or under the control of that iron and steel producer, being property to which that information or forecast relates.In the state in which the Bill now finds itself, this is perhaps one of the most important Amendments that we will have to discuss. I remind the Minister that earlier Amendments from this side have suggested that some effective control of the industry should be operated by the Board. The Government, however, have effectively resisted these Amendments and have indicated that they have no intention of accepting any kind of effective control by the Board.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.
§ Bill, as amended (in Committee and on re-committal), to be further considered Tomorrow.