HC Deb 21 February 1967 vol 741 cc1413-7
26. Mr. Harold Walker

asked the Minister of Power if he will revoke the appointment of Mr. Niall Macdiarmid as deputy-chairman of the Government's organising committee for the steel industry, in view of his public attack on the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry on 8th February, 1967.

27. Mr. Orme

asked the Minister of Power if the public statement made by Mr. Niall Macdiarmid, deputy-chairman of the Government's organising committee for the steel industry on 9th February, regarding the steel industry, was made with his authority.

28. Mr. Varley

asked the Minister of Power if he will reconstitute the National Steel Corporation's organising committee ensuring that the new members he appoints will not publicly oppose public ownership of the industry.

31. Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

asked the Minister of Power whether the public statement of the deputy chairman of the Government's organising committee for the steel industry, on 8th February, on the subject of the nationalisation of the industry was made with his approval.

Mr. Marsh

No, Sir. The organising committee is working well together. It will be succeeded by the National Steel Corporation shortly after Royal Assent to the Iron and Steel Bill, and changes in its composition at this late stage would not help the transfer of the steel industry to public ownership.

Mr. Walker

Is not Mr. Macdiarmid's speech an outrageous declaration of war On the industry—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and will my right hon. Friend make it perfectly clear that he will not tolerate any kind of sabotage by those who allow political prejudice—[Interruption.]—to override national interest?

Mr. Marsh

My hon. Friend must draw a clear distinction between people who are employees of a State undertaking and people who are serving on voluntary bodies within the State.

Mr. Walker

I do.

Mr. Marsh

It would be introducing a very dangerous principle for this side of the House if we were to assume that people on voluntary bodies had to conform to the view of the Government of the day. I am perfectly satisfied that Mr. Macdiarmid's work for the organising committee has been in the interest of the nation.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that any individual is entitled to his political point of view? However, how does he justify the appointment to the board of one of the bitterest opponents of nationalisation, who has said, since being given the job of vice-chairman, that he wants to see the steel industry rise as a phoenix from the ashes of nationalisation and go into private ownership again? How does my right hon. Friend justify such remarks?

Mr. Marsh

The first point to get clear is that nobody, apart from the chairman-designate and Mr. Ron Smith, has been appointed to the board. The organising committee is a voluntary body which is coming to a conclusion after Royal Assent has been given to the Iron and Steel Bill. As for a phoenix rising from the ashes, there seems to be some dispute about what was actually intended by the remark. I wish to make it clear personally—and it is Ministers who are responsible for the political direction of this industry—that it would be a disaster for the industry if it were plunged into denationalisation again. I will do all in my power to ensure that this is not possible.

Mr. Varley

If my right hon. Friend will not reconstitute the organising committee, will he take this opportunity to say that the future Steel Corporation will not be set up with Mr. Macdiarmid as a member of it?

Mr. Marsh

That question does not arise, because I am not making appointments of this kind to the Steel Corporation. As for the organising committee, this body has done really valuable work in the cause of public ownership.

Mr. Mackenzie

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a great deal of concern amongst steel workers, who want to co-operate with the Government on steel nationalisation, and will he remember this episode and the attitude of many of his hon. Friends when he is making appointments to the new board?

Mr. Marsh

I frequently hear businessmen complain about politicians, but I must say that sometimes businessmen are not as good as politicians when they move into that field. I accept that very strong feeling was aroused by this statement, but I repeat that in any voluntary body one has to draw a distinction between remarks that would be intolerable if made by a paid employee but which have to be looked at differently when coming from a member of the voluntary body.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is not Mr. Macdiarmid one of the most experienced and capable executives in the steel industry, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of its affairs, and is it not better to appoint an executive of that kind rather than a broken-down trade union hack—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must get on with his supplementary question.

Sir G. Nabarro

—broken-down trade union hack as a sinecure for the Socialist Party?

Hon. Members


Sir C. Osborne

Will the Minister explain why it is that so many of his hon. Friends seem so bitterly dissatisfied with various aspects of Government policy?

Mr. Marsh

Having sat on both sides of the House, I can only say "'twas ever thus".

Mr. Barber

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the gratitude of this side of the House for his rejection of the ludicrous requests of his hon. Friends, and for choosing the best man for the job? But if it is a prerequisite of appointment to the board of a nationalised industry that the person should have a belief in nationalisation, does not the Minister agree that a prerequisite of membership of Her Majesty's Government should be a belief in joining the Common Market?

Mr. Marsh

It is not my task to deal with that last point. On the right hon. Gentleman's original point, I would only say that this statement did, as is obvious, cause very widespread and very understandable offence, and a great deal of feeling, and I repeat that such a statement made by a person employed by a nationalised body would be disloyal, and the difference here is that the person was not so employed.

Mr. Shinwell

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that when someone is appointed and accepts collective responsibility in accordance with a decision of Government policy, he is expected to keep his mouth shut?

Mr. Marsh

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that Front Bench spokesmen on both sides would regard this as a wholly admirable principle but one that they often find difficulty in keeping to.

32. Mr. Moonman

asked the Minister of Power what job description was presented to the deputy chairman of the Government's organising committee for the steel industry on his appointment; and what was the collective brief given to the committee.

Mr. Marsh

The organising committee was asked to plan the establishment of the National Steel Corporation and the the transfer of the major part of the steel industry into public ownership. Members were not given individual remits.

Mr. Moonman

Would my right hon. Friend consider that if Mr. Macdiarmid's statement had been made by a senior executive of a board of shareholders in private industry he would have been dismissed forthwith? Would he also agree that the motivation of the men running an industry is just as important to the structure of an industry under nationalisation?

Mr. Marsh

I agree—this is a pleasant change from some of the previous questions—with everything my hon. Friend has said. If these remarks had come from a paid executive of an organisation they would have been disloyal.