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Johnson Firth Brown

Volume 888: debated on Monday 10 March 1975

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further discussions he has held with the trade unions and/or management concerning the future of Johnson Firth Brown consequent on the collapse of Jessel Securities.

Since my reply to my hon. Friend on 9th December, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State has had discussions with both these parties about the acquisition by Government of Jessel Securities' shareholding in Johnson Firth Brown Ltd. However, hon. Members will know that the shares have now been otherwise disposed of.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is strong resentment amongst the workers in Johnson Firth Brown about the interference of the European Coal and Steel Community in this matter, and its interference with the proposals of the British Steel Corporation for taking a share in this important company? Does he agree that the special steel industry in Sheffield is far too important to become the catspaw of city financiers in London? Further, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the NEB, when set up, will study that industry with a view to a sensible reorganisation?

On my hon. Friend's first point, I certainly agree that it is a matter of deep public concern that the European Commission imposed conditions which were as unacceptable as they were in this case—namely, the divesting of William Beardmore's and the JFB Foundry, in Glasgow, employing 1,000 men. That is a condition which even before it was carried out caused acute job anxiety in that firm, and which would certainly have undermined its viability if it were outside a larger group. I agree, too, that a decision on the reorganisation of the special steel sector should not be left to a board which allowed itself to be argued into a self-damaging situation as a result of political suspicions which were entirely unjustified. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that we shall retain an NEB option to reorganise the industry in the proper interests of wider industrial benefits to this country. That is what we now propose to do.

Is the Minister aware that what the ECSC is doing in this area is reflecting the view that a monopoly raises grave problems? Does he agree that if the logic of his argument is carried forward, we shall have a continuing series of monopolies right across our industries, irrespective of the interests of both consumers and the work forces employed in those industries? That is what the argument is about.

I do not accept that the ECSC is entitled to take power from this House in the way that it proposes. Though there may be competition considerations, it is utterly unacceptable to the Government—and, I hope, to all Members of this House—that a condition should be imposed which puts at risk the jobs of 1,000 men.