The Iron and Steel Industry before 1949.
Government involvement in the British steel industry began in the 1930s, when following the Import Duties Act 1932 the British Iron and Steel Federation was formed to represent the firms in the industry, to fix prices and production quotas, to impose levies and close down redundant works under government supervision. This body continued to exist through various vicissitudes until 1967. After the outbreak of war in 1939 the industry came under the Iron and Steel Control of the Ministry of Supply which was in fact formed almost entirely from the personnel of the BISF.
At the end of the war there was a clear need for the regeneration of the industry and in 1945 Sir Oliver Franks drew up a report on its future which recommended radical modernisation to lower prices and keep British steel competitive on the world market. Government intervention was envisaged in the control of the prices of raw material, of the finished product and of steel imports, and the regulation of investment, pooling arrangements, new plant and equipment.
The government was to exercise these powers over the industry through an Iron and Steel Board, and this proposal was in fact implemented by the constitution of a board in 1946 to review and supervise schemes of modernisation and development. Members of the Board were appointed by the Minister of Supply and represented the employers, workers and consumers in the iron and steel industry. It was staffed by civil servants in the Ministry of Supply. Full nationalisation of the industry as opposed to government control had already been pledged by the Labour government in the same year, however, and this controversial issue was opposed by the steel firms.
The new Iron and Steel Board, intended as an interim measure, had little co-operation from the BISF. When in the spring of 1949 the members of the Board, except the trade unionists, refused a further term of office, the staff carried on without the directors. Statutory authority for nationalisation did not come until, after considerable delay, the Iron and Steel Act 1949 was passed.
Nationalisation and denationalisation 1949 to 1953.
The 1949 Act, which received the Royal Assent on 24 November, brought 94 iron and steel companies into public ownership and vested them in the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, which took office in October 1950. Vesting date was 15 February 1951. Unlike the nationalisation of the coal industry, where assets rather than undertakings were transferred to public ownership, this left intact the organisation of the individual companies which continued to operate under boards appointed by the corporation. No fundamental structural changes had been achieved by the autumn of 1951 when the Conservative party returned to office, pledged to denationalise the industry. This was brought about by the Iron and Steel Act 1953.
The Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency and the Iron and Steel Board 1953 to 1967.
The Iron and Steel Act 1953, which received the Royal Assent on 14 May, allowed for the industry to be returned to private hands while retaining a measure of public supervision. It provided for the dissolution of the Iron and Steel Corporation and the transfer of all its properties, rights, liabilities and obligations to a new Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency (ISHRA) which was given the duty of securing"the return to private ownership of the undertakings which on the appointed day are owned by subsidiaries of the agency".
The act also provided for the appointment of an Iron and Steel Board which began operations on 13 July 1953 'to exercise a general supervision over the iron and steel industry... with a view to promoting the efficient, economic and adequate supply, under competitive conditions, of iron and steel products'. The work of the Board and ISHRA was thus parallel and complementary.
By November 1954, sixteen undertakings and their 146 subsidiaries had ceased to be publicly owned or controlled, and this accounted for about one half of the activities of the nationalised industry. By July 1957 five-sixths of the nationalised companies had been sold, and in November 1963 only one company, Richard Thomas and Baldwins, was still under public ownership.
Ministerial responsibility for the Iron and Steel Board rested at first with the Minister of Supply, but in 1955 this passed, along with the staff of the Iron and Steel Control, to the Board of Trade. In 1957 another change brought the industry under the Ministry of Power, whose inherited Iron and Steel Division continued to supervise the Board.
In 1965 the Labour government announced its intentions of nationalising the iron and steel industry again. Under the Iron and Steel Act 1967 thirteen privately-owned and one publicly-owned company were brought under the British Steel Corporation, which took over the assets and liabilities of the Iron and Steel Board, now dissolved as was ISHRA. Soon afterwards BISF was also wound up, but a new association, the British Independent Steel Producers Association, was created to represent the substantial portion of the industry, particularly in the engineering and specialist products areas, left in private hands.