§ 36. Mr. C. Osborne
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the dissatisfaction created by the equity of denationalised steel firms which have appreciated in value being offered to the public and the prior charge stocks which mostly stand at a discount being retained by the authorities, if he will arrange that Richard Thomas and Baldwin's capital be converted into all ordinary stock before being offered for sale to the public, and so avoid any prior charge stocks remaining in the hands of the authority.
Section 18 of the Iron and Steel Act, 1953, lays on the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency the duty of, inter alia, returning nationalised iron and steel companies to private ownership in such a way as to secure, without disregard to other relevant matters, that the consideration obtained is financially adequate. In arranging any 22 sales the Agency will, no doubt, take account of all material factors, including those to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.
§ Mr. Osborne
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it has been rather un-satisfactory in the past that the equities which have been sold back to the public have risen to enormous premiums, whereas the fixed interest bearing stocks which have been retained are at a discount? To obviate this obvious unfairness to the taxpayer and to the nation, will not my right hon. Friend see that the whole of this capital is combined into one equity and offered to those who will buy it?
I have no doubt that the Agency will take note of what my hon. Friend has said. The Agency having been set up for this purpose, however, we must leave it to the Agency to decide the best way in which it can carry out its rôle.
Is the Chancellor aware that there is substance in what his hon. Friend asks? The value of the ordinary shares of Colvilles, for example, has increased since 1955 from £13 million to nearly £40 million and this increase has been lost to the public because it has gone to the pockets of private shareholders. Does not the Chancellor agree that the sudden interest in Richard Thomas and Baldwin rather sterns from the fact that last year its working profits increased by 26 per cent., showing the very great success of public enterprise in the steel industry? Will he, therefore, take this as a cardinal feature of the great success of nationalised steel and retain it in public enterprise?
Listening to the hon. Member, my thoughts are rather more that the difficulties that the industry has had in raising capital in recent years have not been unconnected with the threats offered by hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
In view of the success of Richard Thomas and Baldwin, as shown by its accounts, and the part played by the workers in the creation of this wealth, does the Chancellor think that there is any reason at all for denationalisation?
Yes. I would certainly never wish to agree that the workers in any successful industry were not entitled to their share of credit for the success of the industry. I would say that the success of these industries which have been denationalised, as well as those which have remained in public ownership, shows that this industry is perfectly capable of being run efficiently under private ownership, much more than under public ownership.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Will the right hon. Gentleman note that all of us in this House who had the opportunity of being elected or otherwise by the workers of Richard Thomas and Baldwin came back with a mandate, not for denationalisation, but for continued nationalisation?
I do not think that that policy proved very popular with the electorate at the last election.
Mr. H. Wilson
Since the electorate had not at that time heard the Chancellor describe this nationalised industry as a highly successful venture, will the right hon. Gentleman now take steps, belatedly, through the Conservative Central Office to ensure that they do hear? Will he, secondly, indicate what he thinks will be the total amount of the steel industry's earnings on this basis paid out in dividends in the next year or two as compared with the amount which has been paid back over the past few years?
Taken as a whole, the steel industry is a successful industry with excellent prospects. I certainly would not venture to suggest what level of dividends would be appropriate for the future.