HC Deb 28 March 1963 vol 674 cc1519-20
18. Mr. Darling

asked the Minister of Power whether he was consulted by the Iron and Steel Board about the British Iron and Steel Federation's price-fixing arrangements with the European Coal and Steel Community; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Wood

No, Sir. Neither the Iron and Steel Board nor I have to be consulted about such a matter. The British Iron and Steel Federation told us about its talks which have led to an understanding that the steel industries of this country and of the Community would have regard to the price regulations of the Treaty of Paris when selling in each other's home markets.

Mr. Darling

Does not this mean that the British steel companies have given an undertaking to the six countries in the Community that British steel will not be sold in Europe at competitive prices if those competitive prices give an advantage to the British producer? Surely the Minister is not going to say that he favours this kind of arrangement, the private cartel arrangement? If he has not authority to deal with these matters, should not he come to the House to get authority to stop this kind of arrangement?

Mr. Wood

I do not think that the advantages are nearly so clearly in the direction which the hon. Gentleman claims. It is certainly true that inceased sales, even at low prices, would provide welcome work for the industry—and that is the point the hon. Gentleman made—but it is also true—and this he has not pointed out—that production in the Community is 3½ times the size of production in Great Britain. I am told, and the Chairman of the Iron and Steel Board tells me he agrees, that the balance of advantage is on the side of preventing a price cutting war which would be very dangerous indeed to producers generally in this country.

Sir C. Osborne

Are British steel prices much higher or lower than the European levels?

Mr. Wood

I do not think that I could give any direct or concise answer to that. Some are below and some are above.

Mr. T. Fraser

Was not the Iron and Steel Act passed through this House, on the advice of a Conservative Government, with a view to breaking up a monopoly in this country? If that was the intention, why should the right hon. Gentleman now say that he is in favour not only of a monopoly, but of an international cartel?

Mr. Wood

Because the purpose of the arrangement is, in present circumstances, to prevent damage to the British iron and steel industry, which the producers believe would be the result of a serious price-cutting war. That is why they reached the agreement.