HC Deb 10 February 1988 vol 127 cc350-2
17. Mr. Morley

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received on the proposals to denationalise British Steel.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have received a small number of letters from various parties about points of detail. I have so far received very few representations about the principle of privatisation itself.

Mr. Morley

Is the Minister aware that there is much concern among those who are employed at BSC at the moment because no details have yet been put forward about the way in which the privatisation will take place? Is he aware that the trustees of the BSC pension fund recently announced a £41 million payout over and above their income because of the sale of part-owned BSC shares in steel companies? Will he give some assurances to the people who rely on BSC pensions that their rights will be protected?

Mr. Clarke

We hope to publish the Bill turning the corporation into a Companies Act company shortly. Obviously, more details will begin to emerge during the debate on that. Meanwhile, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about pension rights. It is an important matter and we shall have to reassure the employees—I am sure that we shall be able to—that their pension rights will not be affected by the change. When I have taken previous privatisation measures through the House, we have always been able to address that point successfully and I am sure that we shall be able to do so again.

Mr. William Powell

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is widespread demand that that measure proceeds as soon as possible, and can he tell us when he expects the Bill to be published, so that the House can get on with its consideration of the details?

Mr. Clarke

I expect the Bill to be published shortly. I advise my hon. Friend and others who are interested to wait for the business statement that follows this period of questions.

Dr. Bray

Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster think that the present levels of efficiency of the British Steel Corporation could conceivably have been achieved if it had been left in private ownership for the past 20 years?

Mr. Clarke

It could have been achieved at any time by good management, with the co-operation of a good work force in making the necessary changes in working practices and the necessary investment in new plant and equipment, which British Steel Corporation has done so successfully. Now that it is such a successful corporation, there is no need for it to remain under the constraints of the Treasury and Government ownership, and we are ready to return it to the market.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Will the Minister state whether it is correct that he has appointed merchant bankers, brokers and account managers for the flotation? If it is correct, why could he not tell me that in his answers to my written questions, and why does he presume that the Bill will pass through the House?

Mr. Clarke

I am not sure about the questions, which I have not handled myself. It is certainly the case that we have appointed our advisers and issued a press notice on that matter. I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the fullest details of whom we have appointed: the Government merchant bank advisers are Samuel Montagu, the Government brokers are Rowe and Pitman, and the reporting accountants are Coopers and Lybrand.

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