HC Deb 16 February 1965 vol 706 cc994-6
25. Mr. Box

asked the Minister of Power whether, in view of the fact that Richard Thomas and Baldwins is now the only major steel company in the United Kingdom making a loss, he will reconsider the Government's decision to nationalise the steel industry.

Mr. Frederick Lee

No, Sir.

Mr. Box

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that was a very unsatisfactory reply? Would not he agree that the loss made by Richard Thomas and Baldwins is a clear indication of what is likely to happen to the rest of the industry if it should be nationalised? Is it not significant that the only company that will not allow financial journalists to attend its annual general meeting is Richard Thomas and Baldwins? Does not this demonstrate the utter folly of the Government's determination to sacrifice this industry for the sake of party politics?

Mr. Lee

As recently as 24th March last the then Prime Minister told the House that he had the greatest confidence in the management of Richard Thomas and Baldwins. Apart from that, it made substantial profits in each of the ten years from nationalisation to 1960–61, after which the Spencer works began to affect the results. But the net profits after tax varied between £3.6 million in 1957–58 and £8.8 million in 1959–60. So much for the so-called failure.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the specific point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box)? Why does Richard Thomas and Baldwins, alone amongst steel companies, not allow financial journalists to attend its annual general meetings? Is it because there is too much to hide?

Mr. Lee

Whether or not financial journalists attend these meetings is not the subject of the Question on the Order Paper. I was asked to answer about the loss being incurred at the Spencer works. At the same time, Colvilles built its own strip mill at Ravenscraig, and this is also incurring losses. Earlier this month Sir Andrew McCance said about that: While the returns from the strip division are better than those of last year, which was the first year the strip mill operated, they are insufficient to meet the interest on the Government loan. In other words, Ravenscraig was also in debt, like the Spencer works, for precisely the same reason and could not repay public money to the Government.

Mr. Michael Foot

Is it not the case that the only reason that Richard Thomas and Baldwins has made a temporary loss has been fully revealed in its accounts, published for the nation? Is it not because Richard Thomas and Baldwins was the only steel company in the country which had the enterprise to go ahead and build the biggest new steelworks in the country when private enterprise was too cowardly to embark upon the task?

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The House will be delighted to know that Richard Thomas and Baldwins exported nearly twice as high a proportion of its strip mill products as the other steel companies owning strip mills, and that its exports are at a very competitive price which has affected its sales position.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is making matters worse? The more he claims that the firm is efficient—when the results show that it is not—the more reason there is for letting financial journalists into the A.G.M.? Will he answer that point now and not dodge it?

Mr. Lee

The Government are not responsible for who goes into this kind of meeting. When the right hon. Gentleman learns the difference between a billet and a bull's foot he will find that this is the most efficient strip mill in the world.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that financial journalists are not permitted to examine the accounts of the Conservative Party?

Mr. Box rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member desires to give notice I will hear him, otherwise we have finished with the Question.

Mr. Box

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that, in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall seek to raise the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

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