HC Deb 27 April 1967 vol 745 cc1840-6
The Minister of Power (Mr. Richard Marsh)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.

I am glad to say that the following have accepted my invitation to serve as members of the National Steel Corporation:

Chairman: Lord Melchett, who was Chairman of the Organising Committee and previously a director of Hill, Samuel & Co. Ltd.

Deputy Chairman: Dr. H. M. Finniston, Technical Director of C. A. Parsons & Co. Ltd. and Managing Director of International Research and Development Co. Ltd. Mr. M. Milne-Watson, Chairman of Richard, Thomas & Baldwins Ltd. Mr. A. J. Peech, Chairman and Managing Director of United Steel Companies, Ltd.

Full-time members: Lord Layton, Managing Director of the Steel Company of Wales. Mr. Ron Smith, previously General Secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers.

Part-time members: Mr. Raymond Brookes, Chairman and Managing Director of Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd. Alderman Sidney Harris, until recently employed on the shop floor in the steel industry. Sir Cyril Musgrave, Chairman of the Iron and Steel Board. Mr. Peter Parker, Director of Booker Bros., McConnell & Co. Ltd., and Chairman of Booker Engineers & Industrial Holdings Ltd.

Mr. Peech will, for the time being, remain Chairman of United Steel Companies Ltd. and will, after vesting, combine his deputy chairmanship of the Corporation with an important operational appointment in the industry. Alderman Harris and Sir Cyril Musgrave will each give substantially more time to the work of the Corporation than is normal for a part-time member. Further appointments will be made in due course. The formal appointments will be made at once. The National Steel Corporation will then be constituted and the Organising Committee will be dissolved.

The Government have decided that vesting date for the securities of the companies listed in Schedule 1 to the Iron and Steel Act, 1967, should be Friday, 28th July, 1967. I shall at once be signing an Order under Section 9 of the Act to give effect to this decision which means that the period between Royal Assent and vesting date will be rather shorter than for the nationalisation of any other major industry.

The Corporation and all others concerned will have a formidable task to complete the necessary preparation, but a good start has been made by the outstanding work of the Organising Committee, to which I would like to pay tribute. I am sure that this early vesting date will end uncertainty in the industry and clear the way for the structural changes which are generally agreed to be necessary and urgent.

Mr. Barber

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, first, that the vesting of this great industry in the State in July, and the issue of compensation stock consequent thereon, is bound to make even more difficult our economic recovery?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman give more information about the responsibilities of each of the deputy chairmen, or has this not yet been worked out?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the members whom he has appointed to the Board are implacable opponents of nationalisation and believe that it will do irretrievable harm to the industry? In the light of this, has he ruled out completely the appointment of Mr. Niall Macdiarmid?

Mr. Marsh

I do not accept that the issue of this stock will cause economic difficulties internationally. If at any time the right hon. Gentleman felt able not to constantly propagate this line, that might be of help to us all.

Those whose appointments I have announced have all accepted appointment as members of the Corporation, their sole loyalty is to the Corporation and I have no doubt that they will exercise that loyalty.

One clearly cannot pre-empt the right of the Corporation, when it meets, to allocate the functions to be fulfilled. It would generally be believed, for example, that Mr. Ron Smith would be responsible for personnel and social policies, Lord Layton would be the commercial director of the Corporation, that the three deputy chairmen would allocate their duties, on the lines that Mr. Peech would co-ordinate the activities of the industrial groupings, with Mr. Michael Milne-Watson dealing with the administrative side and Dr. Finniston dealing with research and development.

Mr. Barber

The right hon. Gentleman has overlooked my last question, which was whether he has completely ruled out the possibility of the appointment of Mr. Niall Macdiarmid to the Board of the Corporation.

Mr. Marsh

The future of Mr. Macdiarmid and the question of other employees of the Corporation will, of course, be dealt with at a later date.

Mr. Mendelson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread approval in the steel-producing areas at my right hon. Friend's announcement of this early vesting date and widespread conviction that there is much in his remarks about this removing the remaining uncertainty for the future of the industry?

In announcing these appointments and his reference to the fact that the members who have been appointed owe their sole loyalty to the industry, does he intend now to proceed to appoint some more full-time members to perform important technical functions, members with experience of, and representing, workpeople at all levels in the industry, bearing in mind that the Corporation needs strengthening, particularly by the appointment of those who, during the last few years, have been wholeheartedly in support of the national ownership of this industry?

Mr. Marsh

I entirely accept that it would be intolerable to have anybody as a member of the Corporation who would be other than wholeheartedly in support of the Corporation and owed the Corporation his entire loyalty.

There will be further appointments, but there is a distinction between the Board of the Corporation and employees of the Corporation. I think that my hon. Friend has in mind the participation of workpeople in the industry still further. As he knows, Alderman Harris is probably the first shop floor member of any industry to be appointed to the Board of a nationalised industry. Ron Smith represents a direct trade union appointment. In addition, the Corporation is itself at the moment examining ways of getting a greater degree of worker participation in the industry.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

As to the further appointments to membership of the National Steel Corporation itself, can the Minister say whether these will all be to full-time membership or will further part-time members be appointed?

Mr. Marsh

The posts I have in mind at the moment are full-time appointments. It would be possible to appoint another one or two part-time members. I have no particular intentions in that direction at the moment. The part-time members are those whom I have announced, with the possibility of appointing others. Other announcements would be of full-time appointments.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the vesting day of the coal industry the Union Jack was hoisted on top of the buildings because the mines had become national property instead of a private interest? Will he consider doing that for the steelworks?

Mr. Marsh

It is an interesting proposition to which I should like to give further thought and, perhaps, discuss with members of the Corporation.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

The right hon. Gentleman keeps harping on the alleged damage that will be done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) in criticising the Minister for the action of the Government in regard to debentures, but is he aware that the boot could very well be on the other leg, and that international criticism of the integrity of the country and its Government could well be very adverse, for reasons that have already been stated?

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is the Minister in a position to say where the new organisation will be housed? After vesting day, he will have no power to do anything about it, but up to vesting day he can give a direction. He will be aware that there have been suggestions that the Corporation is looking at highly expensive prestige premises, when I should have thought that it would have wanted working headquarters which would be more economical?

Mr. Marsh

I am always intrigued by the schizophrenic attitude of hon. Members opposite, who have campaigned that the industry should be treated as a commercial undertaking. One of the things that a commercial undertaking does is to consider where it will site its offices. It is certainly the intention of the Steel Corporation to ensure that it does not employ anywhere near the number of staff in London that the private companies did, nor to have anywhere near the number of offices that the private companies did. Whatever else the Corporation does, it will save a considerable amount of money by reducing some of the wasteful expenditure of the past.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend agree that he has enormous patronage? When he speaks of further appointments, can he assure the House that he has been able to draw from a sufficiently wide field of experience?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Not all Tories, in other words.

Mr. Marsh

Perhaps I may be able to answer both of my hon. Friends. On the first question, the Minister's powers of patronage are frequently referred to and frequently exaggerated, and the references cause me acute embarrassment, but I can say that there is a very wide choice indeed. The people I have chosen have been chosen on their merits. They are the people I wanted. It would not be right for me to ask them their political views, but I think that if my hon. Friend looked closely at the position, he would not find that they were of any one particular view.

Mr. A. Royle

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what salaries the three full-time deputy chairmen will be paid?

Mr. Marsh

The figures were announced in the House. They range to £24,000 a year.

Mr. Burden

Is the Minister aware that a list of these appointments appeared in the Financial Times this morning? Would he not agree that it is unfortunate if such announcements are to be made in the Press before being made in the House? Can he give an assurance that this was in no way due to any disclosure by his Department?

Mr. Marsh

I would certainly give that assurance unequivocally. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House know tat once one starts informing a lot of people these things happen, regrettable though they are.

Mr. Leadbitter

If the Minister is correct in saying that he now has a wide choice of competent people to serve on the Board, does he not agree that it is, therefore, not necessary to appoint any person, no matter how competent, if he has a long-standing record of being militantly against nationalisation?

Mr. Marsh

That question raises a very wide and important issue. I believe that people have the right to their own opinions until such time as they owe loyalty to a particular organisation. I would warn some of my hon. Friends that it would be a very dangerous line to suggest that views unacceptable to employers were a necessary disqualification of employees.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Was I right in thinking that not one name among those invited to serve on the Corporation represents the Scottish steel industry? If that is the case, can he say why?

Mr. Marsh

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position. None of them represents any part of the industry. They are all appointees representing the British steel industry, which includes the northern part of it.

Mr. Rowland

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of his hon. Friends will be glad that he is able to appoint people of industrial eminence from outside this industry as well as from inside it? Has he found it much easier to do so by virtue of the salary scales which he announced some weeks ago?

Mr. Marsh

Certainly, the salary scales, which are lower than some operating in industry, do open up a wide range of people from which to choose. It means, I think, that we have an injection of new experience and new background in the industry, which I believe people of all views would think very desirable.

Mr. Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As my right hon. Friend clearly misunderstood the main part of my question, may I ask him for a further explanation?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order, but a point of clarification, which does happen occasionally in the House.