British Steel Corporation (Trust Fund)

Oral Answers to Questions — Technology – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1969.

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Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South 12:00, 1 December 1969

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will give a direction to the British Steel Corporation to publish particulars of the fund, estimated at an amount of approximately £400,000, established to compensate a group of employees in the steel industry, thrown out of work by nationalisation, and place in the Library an audited account of such fund with all disbursements to date, solely public funds being entailed.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

asked the Minister of Technology what directions he has given to the British Steel Corporation as to the disposal of the fund set up on nationalisation to compensate former employees who were subsequently and thereby displaced: and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

I assume the hon. Members are referring to a trust fund established by the British Iron and Steel Federation prior to nationalisation. I understand this is an independent discretionary trust. Its control and administration is wholly within the powers of the trustees and neither my right hon. Friend nor the British Steel Corporation has any right to interfere with its administration.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

Does that reply mean that the funds vested in the trust were without the nationalisation Statute and not affected in any way by the contents of that Statute? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman say so, and will he say what legal recourse applicants may have to secure moneys from the fund from the trustees for the purposes for which the fund was established?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

On the first part of that supplementary question, I think that it is correct to say that the trust remaining independently in force and is not controlled by the nationalisation Statute.

The rights of beneficiaries or contingent beneficiaries are the same as in any discretionary trust. This raises interesting and exciting possibilities for them, but not necessarily with the legal power of remedy to force the trustees to exercise their discretion in a particular way at a particular time.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean when he says that he thinks the fund is independent of the Government and of the nationalisation statute? Can he say who is in control of the fund, whether there have been any applications from those who were envisaged as possible beneficiaries, and what is happening to the fund now?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

When I said "I think", I was modestly covering the possibility that there might have been some reference to this somewhere in the Act. So far as I know, there has not. I made clear that this is an ordinary trust fund governed by the ordinary rules of trust law. The trustees are in charge of the fund. They are governed by the terms of the trust deed which can only be enforced against them in the ordinary way, in the courts, by anybody who thinks that he has the right to so enforce them.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot evade responsibility completely in this way? Is he not aware that in 1966 a firm undertaking was given by a previous Minister to safeguard the interests of Federation staff both with regard to pensions and compensation? Ought he not to see that that undertaking is maintained?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

That undertaking has been honoured. We are talking about a totally different matter, namely, the operation of a private trust fund governed by a private trust instrument where the ordinary law applies. The trustees have total authority, subject to the terms of the trust deed, as to how that fund shall be disbursed. It is just like any trust fund.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg leave to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.