§ 1. Mr. C. Osborne
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will use his influence to see that the Richard Thomas and Baldwins capital issue is made in all ordinary shares, so that no part of the company's capital remains in either preference or debenture stocks, which would be less easily sold.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)
I would refer my hon. Friend to the Answer which I gave him on 26th January.
§ Mr. Osborne
But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 26th January. Can my right hon. Friend tell us how big the issue will be and when it will be made? Does he not agree that it would be unfair to the taxpayer for the public to have the equity shares, which can rise to a premium, and for the Government Department to be left with the preference and debenture stocks which will stand at a discount?
I agree it is most important that a big sale of assets of this nature should be made under conditions which will give the best return to the taxpayer. Of course, the responsibility for deciding on and recommending the best method lies with the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency. I think that I must leave it to that body to give me its advice.
Is the Chancellor aware that we do not accept that the responsibility lies with the Agency? It lies with the Chancellor and the Government. At the moment, there is no problem because 52 million people own all the capital of Richard Thomas and Baldwins, and they are getting a terrific return on the capital of this most efficient unit of the steel industry. It is returning great profits to the nation every year, and it does great credit to the whole concept of nationalisation. Only the vandals doing this kind of thing are responsible for this kind of nonsense.
Most of the rather long supplementary question which the hon. Gentleman has asked deals with the policy of denationalisation, which is not raised in this Question. As regards the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I did not say that the responsibility for action or decision lay with the Agency but only the responsibility for deciding the best method and recommending that to me.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is because of Government policy that this great problem with which his hon. Friend is confronted arises at all? Can the right hon. Gentleman advance any reason at the moment to show that it is not working efficiently in the interests of the nation? Is it not a fact that where any big steel combine has been denationalised the only thing that has happened is that the majority of the capital has stayed in public hands and that all that has been denationalised is the profit?
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions, to which I would like an answer? First, on the merits of the case, is there any single word to be said for denationalising this 185 firm? Secondly, since the workers have played a very considerable part by skill and service, can they be consulted?
The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is "Yes". The answer to the second part is that this step will also be in the long-term interest of the workers.