HC Deb 29 April 1969 vol 782 cc1133-4
6. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Power whether he will now make a statement on increased steel prices.

9. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister of Power what assessment he has made of the economic effect of the proposed increase in steel prices; and if he will make a statement.

24. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Power what arrangements have now been made for the provision of steel plates and sections for the shipbuilding industry at special rates, as recommended in the Geddes Report, accepted by the Government; and when he received the report on steel prices by the National Board for Prices and Incomes.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

On all matters concerning steel prices, my right hon. Friend is awaiting the Report of the N.B.P.I., which is expected shortly.

Sir G. Nabarro

Since this crucially important matter has been before the Board for many months, would the hon. Gentleman say what influence the Ministry has had on the final adjudication? Is the delay not unconnected with the recent rearrangement in salary for Lord Melchett?

Mr. Freeson

The answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary is, "No, Sir". The answer to the first part is that we have not influenced any final adjudication, particularly as one has not yet been made.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that even in the present protectionist system Continental steel is doing much harm to our domestic market and that the proposed increase—I understand that it is in the region of 14 per cent.—will weaken our competitive ability still further? Would not my hon. Friend agree that the faster he stops the empire-builders from creating jobs for the boys at extortionate salaries, the faster he will be able to scale down increases of this character and make us more competitive?

Mr. Freeson

The last part of that supplementary question is nonsense. The answer to the first part, about the reference to the Board, is that we are awaiting the Board's report.

Mr. Peyton

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that before the price increases were submitted to the N.B.P.I. they were examined by the Department and the Treasury? If they were, what on earth is the point of this totally unnecessary manœuvre and long delay? Can he give an estimate of the cost to the steel industry of delaying this increase in price?

Mr. Freeson

I am not in a position to make such an estimate. To answer the hon. Gentleman's question about the grounds for the reference, I suggest that the Government would have been open to even more criticism had they not referred the price proposals to the Board. The best thing for us to do is to wait for the report, which will be coming forward soon, and see what that produces.

Mr. James Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that the steel workers are putting their best feet forward and are achieving a tremendous increase in steel production? Is he also aware that any further increase in the price of steel will have a serious effect on, for example, the construction industry? Will he particularly bear in mind that Lanarkshire is a development area and that there is every possibility that many jobs will be lost there if such an increase takes place?

Mr. Freeson

Points of this nature will no doubt be borne closely in mind by the N.B.P.I. in reaching its conclusion To answer my hon. Friend's questions now would be difficult, since we do not yet know the recommendations that will be made by the Board.