HC Deb 09 April 1963 vol 675 cc1074-6
20. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the price paid to Bairds and Scottish Steel Ltd. when they were nationalised; what was the price at which they were sold back to private enterprise; and what safeguards were laid down in the course of this transaction to protect the jobs of the workers involved.

Mr. Barber

The price paid on nationalisation was £4.5 million. The recent sale formed part of a larger transaction involving three companies, and the sale price was not apportioned between them. I understand, however, that for book-keeping purposes in the Accounts of the Agency for 1962–63 a sum of £2.95 million will be allocated to Bairds and Scottish Steel Ltd. out of the total consideration of £5.7 million.

As stated in the Agency announcement of 16th January, the purchasers of the three companies indicated before the sale that they had no intention of taking any steps that would result in an early closure of these companies.

Mr. Dempsey

Did the Minister take into consideration the fact that under public ownership nearly £2 million of public money was spent on modernising this plant? Does not that prove conclusively that private enterprise has done very well out of this deal? Will the hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that the panic which this take-over caused in Coatbridge and Airdrie was alarming, to say the least? Could not something be written into these sales agreements in future in order to provide adequate safeguards for employees and to ensure that their jobs are protected for an indefinite period?

Mr. Barber

In answer to the hon. Member's second point, there is certainly no reason to believe that the commercial prospects of this company have been affected in any way by the sale. With regard to the figures to which I have referred in my Answer, one must bear in mind that other transactions by the Agency have shown a profit. The latest annual report of the Agency shows an excess of realisations over book value cumulative to 30th September, 1962, of over £15 million.

Sir C. Osborne

In order to get a balanced picture of this complicated problem, may I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that the South Durham Steel and Iron Co. Ltd., like other companies, was sold back to the public at 27s. 6d. a share and that today the shares stand at 11s. 6d.? Therefore, if justice is to be done to the ordinary shareholders as well as to the steel organisation, one should be borne in mind as much as the other.

Mr. Barber

I am sure that the whole House will agree that the real yardstick of a company's worth is what it can earn. As the Agency's notice made clear, the prospects of these three companies were not good.