Clause 7. — (Vesting in the Corpora- Tion of Securities of Scheduled Companies.)

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd January 1967.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil 12:00 am, 23rd January 1967

I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 6, line 43, to leave out '475,000' and to insert 550,000'.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Together with Amendment No. 44, we can take the three following Amendments: No. 54, in page 7, line 4, to leave out '475,000' and to insert '550,000'.

Amendment No. 46, in page 7, line 7, to leave out '475,000'and in insert 550,000'.

Amendment No. 47, in page 7, line 14, to leave out '475,000' and to insert '550,000'.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

The effect of Amendment No. 44 would be to substitute for all references to 475,000 tons the figure of 550,000 tons. I am at this moment unable to say precisely which companies would be let out of the net were the House to accept this very sensible Amendment. I have two points to make. First, I should like to amend the Bill to split up or to preserve—

Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde

I thought it was the wish of the hon. Gentleman to get rid of it.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to spend longer on this Amendment than I had intended, I shall do so. I was saying that my object is two-fold: first, to preserve a larger private sector—and I imagine it would be a considerably larger private sector if the figure of 550,000 tons were adopted as the criterion—and to urge this upon the Minister as a very sensible course. I am bound to say that the experiences of the last few months in Standing Committee have borne in upon me the fact that the Government are now so far gone in their wickedness or folly as not to be able to take any step in retreat from their position.

My second purpose is to show again, as I did in Committee, that his whole exercise is a trick, if not a cheat. It is a means, a complicated means but a transparent means, of avoiding the procedure which would necessarily have had to be gone through had the Bill been a hybrid Bill. If companies had been directly selected they would all have had their special rights, and the Minister and his Government would have been bogged down from here to eternity upstairs in a Select Committee, with heaven knows who at the Bar earning very large fees. This would have been agreeable to them, it would have been agreeable to the steel industry, and it would have been agreeable to me and to my hon. Friends.

The complaint is that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government had in their minds certain target industries which they wished to take over, certain firms which they were quite determined to take over. They could not name them without going through the Hybrid Bill procedure, so they thought of this highly unlikely and complicated formula, and—surprise, surprise—at the end of the day, out of the slot machine dropped these firms which they wished to take over. It was really a desperate cheat.

If the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends wish to purge themselves and their party of this nasty shame, they should at least move immediately to abolish the hybrid Bill procedure, because it makes no sense if it is as easy to dodge as this. The Minister was quite blatant about it in Committee—I have not got the reference at this moment, but I was looking at it not long ago—and he admitted that these were the firms he wished to take over. Oddly enough, they were the firms which fitted his formula.

I shall content myself with saying no more at this stage. I move the Amendment more as a protest than in any hope or confidence—

Photo of Mr Edwin Wainwright Mr Edwin Wainwright , Dearne Valley

I hope you will vote for it.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will force it to a vote, as he seems so passionate about it.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

The hon. Gentleman one of these days will learn a little sense, I expect, although it may be highly optimistic to hope for any such thing from one of those who occupy the lunatic fringe of his party.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

Answer my question.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

You have been told to answer the question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to vote. This seems a highly improper way to proceed, but, no doubt, it is one which fits the hon. Gentleman very well.

I move the Amendment far more in protest than, at this stage, any confidence that reason will suddenly dawn and show the Minister that he is doing something for which he has no justification whatever.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

As my name stands second on all these Amendments, I wish to add a few words to what my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has said. We probed this matter fairly thoroughly in Committee in order to ascertain why the extraordinary figure of 475,000 tons had been selected. There seemed to be no good reason for selecting an irregular figure of that kind. The figure of 550,000 tons is equally irregular, but we have to seek to amend in one way or another by substituting a second figure for the first in order to explore what has been in the Ministerial mind in selecting 475,000 tons and, as my hon. Friend said, in the exclusion or inclusion of firms by the line of demarcation at 475,000 tons.

When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) intervened just now, he could not have been aware of the protracted discussions we had in Standing Committee about why particular firms, 14 in number, are named in Schedule 1 and 200—thank goodness—much smaller firms are excluded. The net has not been cast anywhere near so widely as it was cast in the 1949 Act. I do not complain about that. The more that is excluded from nationalisation the happier I am. But I want to know what has guided the Ministerial mind in selecting this extraordinary figure. Now, seven or eight weeks after we discussed the question in Committee, is the right hon. Gentleman able to make a further statement on inclusions or exclusions from the list in Schedule 1 as a result of the question raised by these four Amendments to raise the limit from 475,000 tons to 550,000 tons, a modest rise of 75,000 tons in the arbitral line for nationalisation?

12.15 a.m.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

As far as I can see, if we draw the line at 475,000 tons we automatically, and without being able to help it, include 14 companies in the Schedule. If we drew it at 550,000 tons, the Schedule would doubtless include fewer companies. One, two or three would drop out.

I do not understand why the Minister, having drawn the line at 475,000 tons, leaves himself room to exclude certain companies if, as a result of negotiations, he decides that he would be wise to do so. I do not want to stop him excluding them. I am very much in favour of that, but the procedure seems very odd.

When the Parliamentary Secretary was questioned about this in Committee, he said: In the case of Round Oak the arrangements would probably be that Tube Investments Ltd. would agree not to claim compensation in respect of it—that possibly a shell company would be nationalised and that Tube Investments would not claim compensation for the company."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 20th December, 1966; c. 2561.] It seems most extraordinary procedure, that a works having been included in the 475,000-ton bracket, Tube Investments would offer a complete phantom of a company, say that it will not claim compensation on it, and be allowed to continue to own the actual asset.

It would surely be equally possible for the Steel Company of Wales to offer up a shell company to the Minister say, "We do not want to claim compensation for this", and continue to hold and own the assets the Minister is at present trying to grab hold of? I do not see how one can avoid the Clause and Schedule 1 if one is within the qualifications. The Parliamentary Secretary's answer was very strange, and perhaps the Minister will be able to throw a little more light on it.

I would also like to ask him if he has any news about the two companies he is considering excluding. I do not want to press him if he is not in a position to tell us that negotiations are complete, but I am sure that he would like to tell the House as soon as he can of a decision about them. Therefore, if he has anything to report, I invite him to let us know what it is.

My main question concerns the mechanics of exclusion, which seems to make a nonsense of the Clause and the limit of 475,000 tons if it can be got round so easily. If the Minister can get round it, some other company might be able to get round it too.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

Not having been on the Committee, I did not have the advantage of listening to the discussion. The figure of 475,000 tons is fixed as being the production for the year beginning 1st July, 1963. That happens to be my birthday, and it is a dastardly trick to do on anybody's birthday.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

That was not actually the reason for fixing that date.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

I do not complain; I still enjoyed my birthday. I did not know about that at the time.

The fact remains that the figure was fixed for a time when the production of steel was rather high under the Tories. It has gone down somewhat since, and I think that it is a great deal less today. If that figure was set for the present production, I wonder if certain companies would escape. I do not know whether it has fallen to that extent, but there has been a considerable reduction since the party opposite came to power and I think that the date was fixed at the high peak of Tory production deliberately because the Minister hoped to catch more companies.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

It has been a short, fascinating and quite surprising debate in some of the propositions put forward. The Amendment is simple. It seeks only to change the figure, which is accepted as being fairly arbitrary, as any figure had to be in this context. There is no special figure that one could dream up as being the right one if a section of the steel industry was to be nationalised. There is no specific figure that is of itself right. It was decided to fix the figure at 475,000 tons. Several hon. Members have asked which companies would be excluded if the Opposition Amendment were accepted. Surely it would not have been a bad idea for them to have found that out before putting the Amendment down. If the Amendment were accepted, they would succeed in excluding from public ownership the English Steel Corporation, Park Gate Iron and Steel and Round Oak Steel Works.

There is not much point at this hour in arguing the principle of whether we should or should not nationalise the steel industry, the House having decided to do so. One should rather examine the figures involved in these three companies which the Opposition would exclude. English Steel has a production of 506,000 tons, Park Gate 483,000 tons and Round Oak 489,000 tons. But even more significant is the capacity of these companies. English Steel has a capacity of nearly 900,000 tons per annum. Park Gate a capacity of some 775,000 tons and by 1970 it will have a capacity of some 850,000 tons.

Leaving aside the dispute, which we have had for so long, as to whether one should or should not embark on this exercise in the first instance, it would be absurd to try and rationalise the industry while leaving blocks of capacity of this size outside public ownership, given that public ownership is to take place. The Opposition Amendment is rather illogical within the context of nationalising the steel industry with the intention of trying to rationalise it and its production. Without units of this size, we could not rationalise the industry.

Reference has been made, not surprisingly, to Round Oak, where there are special factors. As I mentioned in Standing Committee, I am examining the position of two companies, Round Oak and Brymbo, which is dealt with rather separately because it is not a scheduled company as are the others. I have no statement to make at the moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I do not think that it is a shame. This is an important matter and there are complicated issues at stake. I have visited the company myself, as has the Chairman of the Organising Committee. A genuine attempt has been made to find out how much strength there is in the argument for the exclusion of Round Oak and Brymbo under either head.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, not for doctrinaire reasons but for other complex reasons, if he were to announce the exclusion of Round Oak particularly from nationalisation, that announcement would, I believe, be regarded with a great deal of hostility on this side of the House?

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

That might well be so. It is precisely because there are arguments—complicated arguments—on both sides that I have taken some time to look at this and to look carefully. I am bound to say that I believe there is at least a case to argue in the case of Round Oak, and I accept from my hon. Friend that there are complex arguments either way which have to be decided. On the other hand, if one were convinced that a particular company would be of no real advantage to the Corporation but that its removal would be of some disadvantage to a large engineering interest, then that is something that, in all commonsense, one should look at. All I say now is that, as far as Round Oak is concerned, it is rather different from the other two. I am still examining its case, along with that of Brymbo. I have no announcement to make tonight.

The Opposition Amendment would produce a totally unrealistic situation within the context of the decision to nationalise the industry with the object of bringing about rationalisation. We would be left with such very big blocks of capacity outside the public sector that we would not be able to do the job properly that we set out to do.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

Could I ask the Minister one question? It is a matter of eight or nine weeks since this question of the exclusion of these two companies, Round Oak and Brymbo, was debated upstairs, and, of course, my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself accepted that negotiations were going on. We rather expected that by the time the final stages of this Bill were reached the Minister would be in a position to make a statement.

If he is not in that position this evening, can he indicate to the House how much longer he feels his negotiations will last, having regard to the important questions of the value of equities in the companies set down for nationalisation?

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

It would be a mistake to refer to these at the moment as negotiations. Representations were made by Tube Investments and Guest, Keen & Nettlefold about these two companies, and as a result there was the question of discussions with the two companies. There has since been physical examination of the plant and the capacity to see the arguments, and it is now really a question of weighing up the arguments for and against the three possibilities—there are I think only three possibilities for dealing with these particular companies.

I cannot say when we will reach a conclusion on this, although I would hope to do so in the very near future. There are big issues involved, and I do not think the companies themselves want the thing rushed. There are sizeable issues of principle here. I would hope to be able to make an announcement in the not too distant future.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

As I said at the beginning, I moved this Amendment really in protest against the Government dodging with this Hybrid Bill procedure rather than in any hope. One has to be content with very small things, and we at least have enjoyed slightly the spectacle of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) bullying, threatening and menacing his Minister, and with that I shall have to be satisfied. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale

I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 7, line 23, to leave out from 'which' to end of the line 27 and to insert: 'a period of twelve months from the passing of this Act shall be completed or, if the Minister shall by order so appoint, the day on which an instrument of accession to the Treaty signed at Paris on the Eighteenth day of April 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government is received by the Government acting as depository of that Treaty, if such instrument of accession shall be deposited before the expiry of the said period of twelve months.' I understand that this Amendment is being taken together with Amendment No. 50, in page 7, line 23, leave out from 'expires' to 'and' in line 24, and No. 51, in page 7, line 26, leave out 'thirty-six' and insert '52'.

Amendment No. 49 is self-explanatory and I can take it very briefly. It provides for vesting day to be 12 months from Royal Assent, or an earlier date if (1) we recognise the Treaty of Paris, and (2) the Minister of Power so decides.

This has not been an easy Amendment to draft, but the intention can be simply stated. It will be obvious to the right hon. Gentleman from the fact that we have considered at length in the past the relationship of the nationalisation of steel to joining the European Community that there would be no point in our pursuing this Amendment to a Division, and we do not intend to do so. But on the assumption that the Prime Minister's negotiations with the Community will be completed within a period of 12 months after this Bill receives Royal Assent, then in our opinion this Bill should not become fully operative until these European negotiations are complete.

There can be no doubt at all, although I have no high hopes, that the acceptance of this Amendment by the Government would be taken by our European friends as an earnest of the Prime Minister's good intentions and thereby help him in his negotiations. It would make it crystal clear that we meant so to organise the steel industry as to bring it into conformity with the practice of the E.C.S.C.

We had a long debate on this matter last week, and I do not intend to go over the same ground again at this hour of the morning, but two consequences did emerge from that debate.

12.30 a.m.

First of all, nationalisation as such is not a bar to our entry into Europe, but secondly, the proposed organisation of the National Steel Corporation would be contrary to the present practice of the European Coal and Steel Community. Of this there can be no doubt. Therefore, in these circumstances an Amendment to defer full operation of the Steel Corporation till the European negotiations are complete would be both a sensible decision and an earnest to the Six that, in the words of the Prime Minister, we mean business.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

I would have thought a third point emerged from the debate to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. It was the keenness with which the right hon. Gentleman wanted to accept the European pricing system. We told him from our side that it did not work, and that no one wanted it. I hope he has seen the statement by Mr. Peech in his annual statement to United Steel, where he said precisely the same thing. I would have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been briefed on that.

Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale

I did not want to go into too much detail on the argument, but I also read that speech this morning, and I read, in particular, the passage set out in large type in the advertisement in The Times, which made it abundantly clear that the industry had no faith at all in the decision of this Government to nationalise the steel industry. It would not be in order for me to go into the whole question at present, and we did go into it the other day, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to make a speech about it he can no doubt catch the eye of the Chair.

The organisation of the steel industry as announced by the Government is inconsistent with the present practice of the E.C.S.C. Of that there can be no doubt whatsoever. I had said so, and I had in fact completed my speech when the hon. Gentleman rose, but I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman because I think it is useful, after having had a number of debates on the merits of the organisation of the steel industry in relation to our possible entry into Europe, to find out from the Minister what his view is on the question of timing. As I said earlier, I have no intention of pressing the Amendment to a Division whatever the Minister says.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

To refer very briefly to the other two Amendments which are being discussed with this one my right hon. Friend has moved, those are, of course, far more modest; they do not involve necessarily quite such a delay; and they were designed to enable the Government, and particularly the Minister, to get their breath after the almost indecent haste with which they rolled this Bill through a terribly obliging Standing Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House declared himself very, very satisfied at one stage with the progress which was being made, and doubtless the Minister will recall the enthusiasm with which his own supporters greeted a suggestion of mine that we should ring up the Leader of the House at three o'clock in the morning to find out if this was really his view that—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. Member will be in order if he speaks to his Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

As I said, these Amendments are proposed, really, to give the Minister a chance to get over the indecent haste with which this Bill was pushed through a terribly obliging Standing Committee, and it was in order to give substance to my allegation that the Minister must be somewhat out of breath after his whirlwind process that I referred—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

To repeat a passage which was out of order does not bring it into order. The hon. Member must come to his Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I will immediately bow to your Ruling. These Amendments, which are very much like the Amendment of my right hon. Friend and have a similar purpose, would merely help the Government to get their breath and not to do anything with the same indecent haste as has marked progress so far.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The timing of the Bill and vesting date has been remarkable. We waited for two years after right hon. and hon. Members opposite came to power—I must be accurate: we wait for a year and a quarter. The Bill is then rushed through at precipitate speed in one of the shortest Committee stages for a major Measure. No Committee stage of another major Measure could have taken such a short calendar time.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Even irony does not bring the hon. Member within order. He must come to the Amendments.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I believe that the reason for this has nothing to do with vesting but is concerned with Europe. It was at about the time of the Committee stage that the Government decided to bid for entry into the Coal and Steel Community. They laid their plans at that time. It looks suspiciously as if it was decided to rush this wretched Bill through because the Government knew that it conflicted with Europe and that if the Bill was going through Committee during the period of negotiation, it would have been extremely difficult and unfortunate for the Minister.

No other explanation has been given for the haste with which the Bill is being rushed through—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member has not yet said a word about the Amendment. He must say a word or two about it.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, but the Amendment suggests that vesting date should be delayed for a year or until the accession of this country to the Coal and Steel Community, whichever is the sooner. I support that proposition because I do not believe that we should do these things to our steel industry until we have carried out this far more important negotiation with the Coal and Steel Community and decided what is necessary to adapt the Bill to the Community.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

May I help my hon. Friend? He need not worry about this, because the Prime Minister today made a speech in which he said that nothing would stand in the way of our entry into Europe. I presume, therefore, that in another place all these Amendments will be accepted.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I had not seen that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing it to my attention. That means, I suppose, that the Minister will accept the Amendment, which implements that pledge which the Prime Minister has given at Strasbourg.

It is extremely important not to start doing things—we accept the principle of nationalisation—to the grouping of the companies, to the compensation and to all these matters which could be wildly wrong. We must wait for vesting day until after this negotiation is settled one way or the other. Otherwise, the time of the House and of the Committee upstairs will simply have been wasted, because the Government will have to come back and change it all when they have got into Europe, as I greatly hope they will.

Therefore, for the sake of this much more exciting adventure, in which hon. Members on all sides of the House can take part, I suggest that the Minister accepts the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

As a complete novice on this complicated Bill, the debates on which I have read with great interest, in particular the one last week on the subject of the E.C.S.C., I should like to ask the Minister two questions arising directly from the Amendment.

First, does the right hon. Gentleman want the negotiations for British entry into the Common Market to succeed? If he does, is he prepared to make the minor sacrifice in the time scale of the Bill that is requested in the Amendment? I am sure, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) has suggested, that if the Minister were willing to make this very small sacrifice, he would assist the Prime Minister in the difficult negotiations that he now has under way.

The Minister will be aware that the most difficult task before the Prime Minister is to convince the Europeans of the sincerity of this Government in seeking to belong to Europe, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would go some way at least towards convincing the European nations of our sincerity if at this last hour he were to say, "Yes, we put joining Europe very high on our list of priorities, in fact so high that we are even prepared to make a concession on this dearest doctrine of all, the nationalisation of steel". I assure the Minister that this would make a very deep impact in Europe, and the Prime Minister would be eternally grateful to him.

My second question, arising from that, is simply this: does he not agree that it will be necessary to reorganise the Iron and Steel Corporation to meet our obligations to the European Community in the event of the Prime Minister being successful? It is, I think, fairly plain from the facts, as can be examined in the E.C.S.C., that we should have to change the organisation of the steel industry as provided for in this Bill in the event of our joining Europe.

I take it that it is common ground on both sides of the House that we hope to join the Common Market within the next year or so. Surely it is elementary that the Minister should hold his horses for a while, that he should have another look at this Amendment, and thereby avoid the painful process of having to reorganise what he has just organised on nationalised lines in perhaps no more than 18 months' or two years' time?

With the Prime Minister going round Europe with the Foreign Secretary in the hope of achieving great things, I cannot see why the Minister of Power should get in his way, and, as I am sure the Minister is anxious to get into Europe, and to see the Prime Minister pull it off in the face of all the difficulties on his own benches and in Europe, I can only ask the right hon. Gentleman to make this small gesture, that he tear a little piece of doctrine from his heart and lay it at the feet of the Prime Minister on behalf of this great European venture which we all have before us.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I have not, and nobody else has, read in full the Prime Minister's speech at Strasbourg this afternoon, but from what I have read on the tape and in the Press it was a pretty powerful speech advocating Britain's admission to the European Economic Community.

I happen to be one of those who are pledged to support our entry into the Community.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

The hon. Gentleman was not in 1959.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

It would be wrong to reply to that interjection from the Liberal Whip from a sedentary position. In any case it is not worthy of a reply, because I am emotionally involved in this. I believe that the future of this country is involved in whether or not we get into Europe. I think that we are dealing with the future of the whole of this nation, of children yet unborn, and with the whole basis of our development over the next 30 years.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member must not discuss the merits of whether we should join the Common Market.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

With respect, Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is very relevant. During our debates it has become quite clear that a lot of the things in the Bill will be difficult—I put it no higher than that—for the Europeans to accept. This Bill will make it more difficult for us to get into Europe. Our debates could appear to show that we are not convinced that we ought to get into Europe. The negotiations for our entry will go on during the next 12 or 18 months or two years. Surely, under those conditions, we should not begin an action which will have to be undone if, by accepting the Amendment and delaying the vesting date, we could leave the whole thing in a fluid position? Therefore, in the interests of the nation —not just in the interests of the present Government, because this is far bigger than party politics—I ask the right hon. Gentleman to show, by accepting the Amendment, that he also is a convinced European—which I doubt—and therefore wishes to show Europe that we are taking no steps which will make our entry into the Community more difficult.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if we pass the Bill in its present form many people—the people who matter—in Europe will say that we are showing that we do not expect to get in. This is psychologically important and therefore, particularly as the Prime Minister, without any equivocation, has said that if we fail to get into Europe it will not be our fault, let us tonight make it quite clear that we have taken no action that can be construed by anybody as bad faith.

12.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

I expected many things when bringing forward the Bill, but I never thought that it would become such a pivotal point of the European argument—given that there is an argument; we are all Europeans now.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said that many people who matter in Europe believe that the Bill is a barrier to Britain's entry into the Community. I can only repeat that it is precisely because the Government have decided to examine the possibilities of European entry now and to study the implications that I have deliberately and positively had specific discussions on the subject. I repeat what I said the other night; there is no evidence whatever, nor have I ever heard it suggested outside the House, that British membership of the Community could be determined by anything in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale

I made the point that there was nothing in the Bill which would prevent our joining, but I said—with a great deal of evidence behind me, from my inquiries—that if the Bill were implemented and the industry was nationalised in the way in which the Minister and his predecessors have outlined, it would be contrary to all the practice of the European Coal and Steel Community. It is a simple question: does he agree? I am informed from fairly high sources in the E.C.S.C. that this is the case.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

I have never attempted to hide the fact that if and when this country was about to join the Community, prior to joining there would have to be serious negotiations not only about steel but about coal and many other factors. I am satisfied that there is no inconsistency between nationalisation and the Treaty of Paris—this would not be challenged—and that given the necessary political will the Bill is reconcilable with the Treaty.

But if this country is to negotiate with other people we must surely start on the assumption that we also have some rights to negotiate. If we are to enter into negotiations with the whole of Her Majesty's Opposition saying that the Government have no case and the British people have no case, it will be very difficult. I accept that if we decide to enter many things will have to be negotiated, but at the moment the Government stand on the belief that there is nothing incompatible between the Bill and membership of the E.C.S.C. Some people argue about the question of size, but the French coal industry, as a proportion of the coal industry of the Community, is larger than the British steel industry will be as a proportion of the new Community. All of these things have to be argued, but we are starting with the assumption, as we must, that as far as we are concerned, this is British legislation in a British Parliament, to meet British circumstances and as with many other things, we might subsequently have to negotiate and argue industry with other people about it.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Of course this is something that might have to be altered, with the Coal Board. This has been in existence for 20 years. I am not talking about the European Coal and Steel Community which is a technical organisation. I am talking about the effect that this will have upon the politicians—I need not mention one in particular. If we do not delay vesting date we are giving them a tremendous argument, that we are still proceeding as if we did not expect to succeed.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

Without pursuing this matter any further because I think that we should get into difficulties, it is conceivable that Britain might not join the European Economic Community All that I am saying is that whatever the reasons were for a failure, if such a failure took place, nothing in the Iron and Steel Bill would be a part of those reasons. There are much bigger reasons than this. It is wholly fallacious, and certainly very unhelpful to the views which hon. Gentlemen have put forward, to argue as they do over and over again, the argument which others might want to use against the case which they have put up.

The position was summed up very well in the Financial Times on 12th January, talking about the difficulties now facing the industry. It said: This makes it all the more important that plans for rationalisation are pushed through as fast as possible. Just because the problems and the sums involved are considerable there is a tendency to think in longish time-spans. The question often asked is what should the industry look like in the mid-70s. But should it not be thinking in terms of 1970? The hon. Gentleman talked about the indecent haste with which we have rolled this Bill through, and coming from a Member of the Opposition who sat on Standing Committee D this requires a degree of brass-facedness which would be difficult to beat. I have always believed that this Bill should be rolled through as quickly as possible because I have always believed that unless we rationalize this industry it would collapse. I have always believed, before I was a Minister, and before we were in Government, that the only way we would get this level of rationalisation was by nationalising the industry and forcing it to take these decisions.

Given that the matter is urgent we have to get this Bill as quickly as possible and we have to get vesting date as quickly as possible. It is essential that this uncertainty be ended. The Organising Committee, set up after Second Reading, has made an excellent start and has got to grips with the central issues of organisation. There should be no difficulty in completing the practical difficulties of vesting within nine months from Royal Assent. I would hope to shorten that period substantially and anything which lengthened the period before vesting date would be undesirable for the industry.

Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale

The right hon. Gentleman says that he has always believed that we should get this Bill as quickly as possible. He is only one of a number of members of the Cabinet and it is well known that the Prime Minister took a different view, because again and again he deferred the introduction of the Bill, believing that it was not a matter of any great consequence, apart from its advantage, in political terms, within the Labour Party. This is why it has been brought forward now. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been more forthcoming. I knew from the outset that, as a result of our debate last week, which took place after the Amendment was put down, there was no hope of us getting the Amendment, and this is why I saw no reason in pressing it.

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not been more forthcoming about the relationship between the Bill and the practical consequences of it in connection with our joining the E.E.C. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee know full well, from the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman adopted in our debates on Europe, that he is not particularly keen to get into Europe. That was evident from his reaction on a number of occasions.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

The right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what happened in Standing Committee. The question which my right hon. Friend and many of my hon. Friends posed in Committee was whether it was reasonable to ask that a clear decision of the electorate—to give a mandate to the Government to take this industry into public ownership—should be disregarded and pushed aside because of possible future developments.

Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale

I said that the Prime Minister had decided on a number of occasions to push it aside. He could have gone ahead with the Bill at an earlier stage; but he deliberately decided not to do so. However, having listened to the Minister and realising that we cannot take the matter further now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.