HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc25-7
41 Mr. Nabarro

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) the inventoral value at 1st January, 1960, of the net assets of the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency in respect of the 12 remaining nationalised steel companies out of the 62 companies for which the Agency was made statutorily responsible in 1953; and what further progress has now been made towards total denationalisation of steel;

(2) the amount of the investment at 1st January, 1960, by the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency in steel companies already denationalised; and when such investments are to be placed on the Stock Exchange for public sale;

(3) having regard to the aggregate value of £196 million at 30th September, 1959, being the book value of the remaining subsidiaries of the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency, aggregated with the book value of prior charges and including outstanding loans made by the Agency at that date, and to the fact that this figure of £196 million reflects a slow rate of steel denationalisation by the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency, whether he will now make a statement as to the future policy of the Agency in regard to completion of steel denationalisation and the winding-up of the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency.

Mr. Amory

At 3rd October, 1959, the latest date for which balance sheets are available, the value of the net assets in the books of the Agency's remaining subsidiaries was £92 million. At 1st January, 1960, the book value to the Agency of its prior charge holdings in and loans to companies already denationalised was £147.8 million.

On the general question, the Agency has a continuing statutory duty to return nationalised iron and steel undertakings to private ownership in such a way as to secure, without disregard to other relevant matters, that the consideration obtained is financially adequate. My hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate any future offers for sale that the Agency may make.

Mr. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend perceive that the total of nearly £250 million of public moneys at present invested in the steel companies, nationalised and denationalised, is a sum practically as great as when the 1953 Act was put on the Statute Book? Does not this represent a snail-like progress towards total denationalisation? Will not my right hon. Friend assure that the Conservative Party honours its election pledges at three consecutive General Elections — 1951, 1955 and 1959—and completes the denationalisation of steel and the winding up of I.S.H.R.A. at a very early date?

Mr. Amory

We can rely on the Agency to proceed with its functions with all due speed bearing in mind the requirements that have been laid upon it. I would, however, like to emphasise that any difficulties that it has had in the past have derived not from the policies of Her Majesty's Government, but from the policies and attitude of the Opposition.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that after the Agency has completed the task of disposing of the remaining assets of this nationalised industry, it will not turn its attention to the nationalised railways?

Mr. Amory

That would require drastic amendment of the Act from which the Agency derives its powers.

Mr. Lee

Will the Chancellor make it clear that despite the bias of the Government, Richard Thomas and Baldwin has proved far more efficient, if judged either by the production of steel or the production of profits, than any other component of the steel industry and that it is despite that—or, it may be, because of it—that the Treasury is now handing it back to private enterprise?

Mr. Amory

I do not possess the technical knowledge to differentiate between the different steel companies in regard to the points which the hon. Member has raised.

Mr. Nabarro

On a point of order. In view of the highly unsatisfactory Answers to Questions Nos. 41 to 43 inclusive, and, retrospectively, Question No. 36, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at a very early date.