HC Deb 10 May 1954 vol 527 cc845-7
37. Mrs. White

asked the Minister of Supply what supervision is being exercised over steel firms which have not yet been returned to the control of private shareholders.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

Supervision over all steel companies, irrespective of the ownership of their shares, is exercised by the Iron and Steel Board.

Mrs. White

Has the right hon. Gentleman observed the very scathing criticism of the present state of the industry by the Financial Editor of the "Manchester Guardian" recently? Is he himself satisfied that firms should really be considerably removed from effective control while they are in the hands of an Agency which is concerned purely with their financial affairs?

Mr. Sandys

The original Question was about supervision, and I think the hon. Lady is now referring to control. All companies, whether privately or publicly owned, are controlled by their respective boards of directors, which are answerable to the shareholders. I think the hon. Lady will recognise that the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency, which holds the shares of companies which have not yet been returned to private ownership, exercises at least as much control as any body of private shareholders.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Agency set up to dispose of these shares of companies—and the work is being done very slowly—is really exercising effective control over the boards of directors of the companies concerned, and whether it is not really a ridiculous situation in which we still have public ownership of 90 per cent, of the industry, while the boards represent private interests only?

Mr, Sandys

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is correct. I said in my reply to the hon. Lady a moment ago that the Agency exercises at least as much control over these companies as would any body of private shareholders. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a disposal agency, but it is a Holding and Realisation Agency, which is acting at present in regard to these particular companies as a holding company. The right hon. Gentleman also said that we were disposing of the shares of these companies very slowly, but we were urged by the party opposite to go slow in this process of realisation to make quite sure that we got a fair price. That is precisely what we are doing.

Mr. Nabarro

Has my right hon. Friend observed the present level of steel production and the record output of 18 million tons in a full year? In those circumstances, may I ask him why is it necessary to have any control other than the supervision of the Iron and Steel Board?

Mr. Sandys

I think my hon. Friend has provided the answer. I can see no justifiable criticism of the management and control or supervision of the iron and steel industry, having regard to the results which it is at present achieving.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Is it not a fact that 90 per cent, of the steel industry is still publicly owned? In view of the surrounding factors, would the Government now consider giving up the attempt to effect a temporary transfer to private ownership?

Mr. Sandys

I made it clear in the original White Paper before the Bill for denationalisation was introduced, that the process of selling back this formidable number of shares, involving a large amount of capital, was bound to be spread over a number of years. I think hon. Members opposite would be well advised not to crow too soon.