§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
This familiar phrase, which has been uttered from this Box so many times, during this Parliament, marks another stage in the Bill, and I am perfectly certain that no Bill with which this House has dealt during the present Parliament has received such minute scrutiny as the Bill we are now discussing. This was really a very innocuous Bill, and I think it could have been assumed from the beginning that the Committee and subsequent stages would be much shorter than the other nationalisation Bills. The gas industry's own report in 1943 came down heavily on the need for integration and co-ordination, the Heyworth Report did the same, and the fundamental difference between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House as to how that should be achieved, either by some form of private enterprise, municipal enterprise, or public ownership, was decided at the General Election of 1945. So it seemed to me that it was nice and tidy and that all issues were settled by and large by the various people who had expressed themselves.
At the same time, it is really a twin of the Electricity Bill. Indeed large parts of the Gas Bill, particularly some of the most controversial parts, such as that dealing with the compensation provisions, were lifted bodily from Part II of the Electricity Bill and put into the Gas Bill almost word for word. It has never been represented at any time that the Electricity Bill had not been thoroughly and adequately discussed. Indeed, I think it will be within the recollection of the House that the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) confirmed this view about 12 months ago on the Third Reading of the Electricity Bill. Again, because of the advantage of the experience which both sides, particularly ourselves, had gained from the Electricity Bill, fewer Amendments to the Gas Bill were found necessary. Indeed the actual 436 Amendments that have been made since the Second Reading are 250; 138 were made in Committee and 112 on the Report and the Re-committal stages. That compares with a total of 353 for the Electricity Bill.
Despite all these factors, it was clear from the outset that the Opposition would make the passage of this Bill none too easy, and again some comparisons with the Electricity Bill are illuminating. In Committee the Opposition put down 820 Amendments while the Government put down 63, as compared with 417 Opposition Amendments and 171 Government Amendments to the Electricity Bill. On an average we spent 55 minutes in Committee on every Amendment that was made, as compared with 18 minutes on the Electricity Bill, and we spent 23 minutes on every Amendment discussed as compared with an average of nine minutes on the Electricity Bill. The hours spent in the Committee were 127 on gas and 60 on electricity and, finally, in order to complete the record, let me say that there were 156 Divisions on the Gas Bill as compared with 35 on the Electricity Bill.
It might be assumed from this record that a great many changes were made in the Gas Bill, but that is not so. It is true that there was a careful scrutiny; indeed, some of my hon. Friends might think that the careful scrutiny came very near to filibustering. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who I am sorry is not in his place at the moment—
§ Mr. Robens
—appeared to enjoy himself hugely on this Bill because, even when he accepted an Amendment in Committee he would make a speech and, not content with that, would turn round and invite his various friends to say a few words also. On relatively unimportant matters we spent quite a time. I remember that we spent something like four columns of HANSARD in discussing a relatively unimportant matter in relation to gas production and distribution, namely, as to whether the word "nationalisation" should be spelt with an "s" or a "z."
Attempts to prolong the discussions were numerous, and they were in the main, goads to Government spokesmen in 437 the Committee. They were many and varied. For example, I remember being referred to by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, who had a long list of these things, as "a carbonised Casabianca"; then, again, I was "a sheep running amok"; finally I was "a monopolist and an extremist." Well, like the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, who was always anxiously explaining to us how he was really anxious to get on with the Bill, we really were anxious to get on with the Bill. However, tempers were fairly even and we plodded on against the stone-wall tactics of the Opposition and, in the end, we began to pile up the runs.
What changes have been made since the Bill was first introduced? In the first place, there has been no real criticism of the main feature of the Bill, namely, the decentralisation of the organisation under autonomous area boards, and we feel that the industry generally is well satisfied with that set-up and that we may look forward to its future with some confidence. The appointments of the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman designate of the Gas Council, Mr. Silvester and Colonel Smith, have been widely welcomed by the industry, and we shall make the other appointments as quickly as possible. We recognise that it is highly important to settle these appointments quickly. We must relieve the minds of the people in the industry, who are doing the technical and administrative work, as to their position. Naturally they want to know how they will fit in, and in what way.
There are a few changes made in what is perhaps a complicated part of the Bill, namely, Part II on compensation and vesting. In Clause 15 we made a small change in the definition of a holding company. Then in Clause 26, we made an extension of the war damage compensation concession to the holding companies. In Clause 29 we increased the compensation for severance to local authorities from £2 million to £2,500,000. Then, in Clause 30, we made the corresponding concession to composite companies, and, in Clause 20, a safeguard for composite company reserves. Clause 37, the new Clause, was forecast by the Minister in his Second Reading speech. It prevents local authorities from raiding their gas reserves and, if I may again quote the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, prevents what he described in words attributed to my 438 hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter) as having a "do" at the expense of the industry.
Under Clause 58 we made a change dealing with co-partnership. That has not been an easy matter to deal with, but I feel sincerely that the Amendment made by the Government to this Clause will meet the situation. It will provide for all the existing co-partnership schemes to continue for a time without their funds being distributed, and it makes it perfectly clear that it is open to both sides of the industry to make new arrangements in substitution for the old co-partnership schemes. I should like here to repeat something which I said during the Second Reading. There is nothing at all, apart from shareholding, which is at present gained as a result of co-partnership which cannot be obtained under the Bill as it now stands. After all, it must always be open for the workers, on the one hand, and those responsible for management, on the other hand, to decide the type of organisation, conditions and arrangements which must be made between the two sides. This is a domestic matter for those people, and the amended Clause 58 gives a wide, flexible power for this to be done.
In Clause 59 a Government Amendment which was accepted provides compensation for a further class of people. In referring to meter inspectors I am probably touching a tender cord in the heart of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth. The House will recollect that under the Bill the function of meter inspection and gas examination is one for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who must take over the whole of those responsibilities. Accordingly, under the amended Clause 59, all those persons who are now doing the work of meter inspection and gas examination full-time will come into the employ of the Ministry, and there will be compensation for those who suffer loss of office or of emoluments.
Another important Amendment affected the geographical areas of the area boards. The new White Paper, Cmd. 7427, which has been made available, makes an important change in the schemes of areas originally proposed in the White Paper, Cmd. 7313. The Southern area is now substituted for the original South Midlands area. I should like here to express appreciation to the British Gas Council, who have been very helpful in this matter.
439 For other Amendments which I regard as of some importance credit must be given to the Opposition, and I take this opportunity of giving it. We are indebted to them, for example, for the Amendment to Clause 61, where it is now made clear that area boards cannot control landladies. If anybody is sufficiently interested ever to want to read a really good treatise on landladies, I commend to them a speech on this subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth. Hon. Members may recollect that in the House recently I referred to another great speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I believe it was a treatise on gas inspectors and I think I said at the time that it would probably lose him every vote of every gas inspector in Bournemouth at the next Election.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman is an astute politician, however, and decided that the number of landladies was much greater than the number of gas inspectors, so he made a real eulogy of all the landladies in Bournemouth and everywhere else.
We went on to alter, in consequence, paragraph 17 of the Third Schedule. This is important because it prevents what has been an abuse—the over-charging by landladies to their tenants for the gas supply. The position now is that gas supplied to persons who resell—that is permissible, of course—must sell at the price at which it was supplied to them by the area board. They are no longer in the position, as has hitherto been the case, of being able to make substantial profit by reselling gas. I express my appreciation to the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends for raising this matter and giving us the opportunity of making the Amendment. I hope that when landladies read the comments by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth it will be a clear warning that they must not in any circumstances charge more for the gas than the price at which the area boards sell gas locally.
I think I have covered the main differences, as I see them, that should be mentioned here, as between the Bill as presented at the Second Reading and as it now stands at its Third Reading. There 440 are, however, two other matters which are of great importance to the future of the industry. The first of these is the consultative council. The consultative council machinery, properly and efficiently worked, can add considerably to the success of the industry by bringing the actual consumer into close and intimate contact with the area board. Gas users must be educated to use the consultative councils, to express themselves as to the service rendered, the services they are entitled to expect, the efficiency of appliances and, indeed, everything pertaining to gas consumer problems and any difficulties which may arise.
I am convinced that, above all else, service must be the keynote of the industry. The fact that the chairman of the consultative council is an appointed member of the area board, coupled with the fact that area boards must keep their councils fully informed of all their plans and tariffs, provides administratively within the Bill a close link between consumer and supplier. In addition the consultative councils acting again on behalf of the consumer, have the right to appeal direct to the Minister if they feel there is any defect in the plans and arrangements of area boards. The Minister, after consulting the Gas Council, can order an outside inquiry into the whole matter.
On paper, therefore, within the Bill the machinery is right, but its success will depend entirely upon the calibre of the men and women appointed to the consultative councils, the service which they put into their work and the education of the gas consumers as to the vital part which they can play in the use of the machinery. I do hope that consumers generally will recognise the importance of these consultative councils and use them to the utmost. As a result of an Opposition Amendment their reports are to be compulsorily published each year. Originally the provision was that the reports may be published annually. It is a good thing that they should be published annually and that makes an appreciable improvement in the Bill. The reports should be valuable and interesting, and add to the general education of gas consumers.
Another very important matter to which I wish to pay special attention is Clause 56 which deals with the workers in the industry. It provides tot joint consultation at every level and in particular 441 says that machinery is to be set up forthe promotion and encouragement of measures affecting safety, health and welfare … and the discussion of other matters of mutual interest … including"—and I stress this—efficiency in the operation of the services.Hon. Members on the Liberal benches made great play in the House the other day when they moved an Amendment to provide for the direct representation of workers on area boards. They stood there cock-a-hoop and described this as a great battle for industrial democracy. What utter nonsense that was. What sheer, utter nonsense. Their ideas on matters of industrial democracy are about as remote as is the chance of the party opposite winning the next General Election. That is an opinion, but there is no doubt at all in the minds of my hon. Friends and myself about it When hon. Members opposite start winning by-elections they can begin to talk.
To come back to the important question of industrial democracy, as it is now termed, I regard this as a very great experiment. It has to be approached by those responsible for management with the proper conception of the rights of the workers in industry to put forward views and opinions and they should be received in the proper spirit of co-operation between management and worker. How often have we seen consultative councils in factories and workshops fail when the workers have genuinely, honestly, and conscientiously put forward ideas which have been turned down without real consideration on the plea, "That is a matter of management."
I hope we shall have a change in the approach. I think we must creep before we can walk, and on these consultative committees the workers have to recognise a great change and to appreciate that additional responsibility becomes theirs when this industrial democracy, as we call it, is at work. Ideas and views have to be translated by managements into practical propositions, and airy-fairy theories can have no place at all round the consultative committee's table. The hard facts of technical, commercial and administrative life must be faced. I want to see in this industry consultative machinery so designed that it will effectively give a voice to the humblest 442 worker in the industry and make him feel part and parcel of this great undertaking.
I want the workers in the industry to be as interested in the balance sheet as the area boards themselves. I want them to see very clearly the economies effected by greater efficiency increasing the value of man-hours to the industry so as to enable it to provide those measures of improved standards that workers are entitled to expect. We must face up to that. Workers in all industry must face up to the fact that there is no bottomless purse held by the Government, out of which improved wages and conditions can be met. Publicly owned industries must stand on their own feet. Therefore, wrapped up in the prosperity of the industry inevitably is the prosperity and well-being of every individual worker in the industry.
For that reason, I want the organized workers in the gas industry to think carefully and clearly and to evolve, along with the area boards or the Gas Council, as the case may be, really sound and efficient consultative machinery. In the early working of these consultative committees I want area boards to be patient and to recognise that, in an experiment such as this, great changes cannot take place overnight. From time to time management might feel there is some interference with their rights, but let management be a little tolerant and recognise that the important thing is to encourage the best that lies in the workers generally. I place great hope on the successful operation of this Clause. I know the leaders of the trade union movement representing the gas workers will give their membership sound advice on these matters and that nothing but good can come from the operation of this Clause.
This Bill embodies the principles of integration and co-ordination, which all parties are agreed are necessary. The advantage of this Bill is that it represents a clean-cut method of securing these essentials. It was obviously quite impossible to have proper integration without public ownership when so large a part of the industry was in the hands of municipal ownership. The Association of Municipal Authorities took up a strong attitude that, whilst they would be prepared to take over private companies, they were 443 not prepared for private companies to take over municipal undertakings. I applaud that view on the part of the municipal undertakings but, nevertheless, it is a conflict of opinion in the industry, and could not be settled so easily by some of the other schemes put forward. That conflict shows, for example, that it would be a long and tedious process to get co-ordination and integration if we had left it to any method but public ownership—I am speaking purely on the aspect of expediency, and not on the political aspect—and these truly desirable reforms of the industry could not have been achieved. The Bill is a clean-cut way by which the necessary co-ordination and integration can be brought about.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
I beg to move to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months."
We are indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary for the courtesy and competence with which he has, as always, tackled his job. But I think we may also go on to say that rarely have we heard the Third Reading of a Bill of such gravity and importance moved in so perfunctory a fashion or with so little real conviction. To those who remember the rumbustious manner in which the Bill was introduced into this House, the mood of its supporters seems to have undergone a strange sea change. We remember the Lord President of the Council actually trailing his coat up and down the Floor of the House and saying that the more of these Bills were introduced, the quieter the Opposition seemed to get. Then we had a somewhat plaintive complaint from the Parliamentary Secretary that no Bill in recent years has ever had such close scrutiny. What does he think the House of Commons is here to do other than to give close scrutiny to such Measures?
The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some rather interesting statistics which I did my best to take down. They indicated that the Opposition had indeed done its job. He said that a number of Amendments had been made during the Committee stage—he lumped them all together—and that a number had been made on Report. He did not go on to say that, of the Amendments in Committee, 63 were made on the motion of the 444 Government and 76 on the motion of the Opposition, which seems to indicate that we had a very fair share of the Amendments to the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary went on to state, by some process of arithmetic which was very difficult to follow, that an undue amount of attention had been given to this Bill. He prayed in aid the Electricity Act. On the analogy of that Measure, which is his own analogy, this House has still due to it four weeks' consideration of this Bill, for we are four weeks under the time which was allotted for the Electricity Act. We know why of course. The Government programme is getting into a hopeless snarl of confusion with its attempts to rig the electorate and to gerrymander the Constitution, so that it requires an unusual amount of compression at this stage.
The Government do not wish to acknowledge that, and so try to place the whole burden on the shoulders of the Opposition. We are perfectly willing to take the responsibility for the close examination of the Bill. All that we can say is that we still think that the examination was not close enough and that the Amendments which we made to the Bill were certainly not sufficiently sweeping. As an example of the wisdom with which the Parliamentary Secretary and his friends have drafted the Bill, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary was rash enough to say that owing to an Opposition Amendment, it was clear that the area boards would not now be able to control the landlady, thereby indicating that when he introduced the Measure the effect of the statute was to do so. The Parliamentary Secretary's example was singularly ill-chosen.
It is not really on these petty details, nor indeed on the wide generalities with which the Parliamentary Secretary concluded that the fortunes of this Measure will depend. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to say, "I warn the workers that there is no bottomless purse out of which the Government can draw something to satisfy their requirements; it must be done out of the industry and by the industry itself." He totally leaves out of account the fundamental point that this industry is a processing industry. It processes the great reserves of solid fuel which this country 445 enjoys, and by the direct operation of the overloading and over-centralisation which is now going on under the Government's Measures less and less time is being left to the Minister to concentrate upon an efficient and cheap supply of the raw material upon which this industry, like every other industry, depends.
What will it matter if a few pence are cut off advertising expenses here or a few reforms are made as to the purification of gas elsewhere if, meanwhile, the raw material upon which the whole thing depends costs an amount or falls short to a degree to which the country has recently become accustomed? I will tell the House what will happen, and I will do so in words from which I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary will demur because they are the words of his own Minister. The Minister of Fuel and Power, speaking no longer ago than 11th June to his Press conference, did not boast about the fact that gas was being more efficiently or rapidly produced, that consumers were coming forward, that in every way this industry was expanding. He complained about it. What is the use of the industry doing everything it can to expand and popularise its production if the Minister who is responsible is so entangled in administrative detail that he cannot produce the raw material which the industry requires for its production?
The Minister said that in the first four weeks of slimmer there had been an increase in the coal consumption of gasworks of 4.3 per cent. above expectations, and added:During the last two weeks gas sent out for public supply had been 18.5 per cent. … above that of last year. We could not afford to increase consumption so sharply.The whole of the work of the industry, this familiarising, efficiency-producing work which the Parliamentary Secretary, with extraordinary optimism, attributes to the future working of consultative councils, will be negatived by the failure to which the Minister himself offers testimony in such striking terms. "We cannot afford," he says "to increase the consumption of gas so sharply." The arguments upon which the Government brought forward this Measure were that the profit motive ought to be abolished, that the industry was inefficient and that it was absolutely necessary that these far-reaching changes should be made in order 446 to produce efficiency in the industry, and implicitly that these changes would promote a cheaper and more plentiful supply of gas. We have heard very little of these in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech commending this Measure to the House.
The Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to say that the chances of improvement along the lines which the Liberal Party had advocated were about as great as those of the Tory Party winning a majority at the next General Election. Then, with great rashness, he went on to say that when we began to win by-elections we could then begin to talk. Well, I am herein response to that invitation. Having recently carried a by-election by a majority of 18,000, I think that I fulfil the demands of the Parliamentary Secretary, all the more as this was a reversal of the previous verdict. We can "let that fly"—because it is "fly" that it means although we pronounce it "flee" in Scotland—"Stick to the wall" or we can refer it to the great assize of the General Election. Meanwhile, we have to do our best, Government and Opposition alike, to make sure that until that time the affairs of the nation are administered in a businesslike fashion.
The Minister said that he had hoped that this Measure would be acceptable because the compensation Clauses, for instance, were lifted almost word for word out of the Electricity Act, and he had the precedent of the Electricity Act to go on. He had indeed. He has the precedent of the Electricity Act to go on; he has the precedent of the increases in charges which are taking place under the Electricity Act to go on; he has the Minister's bitter complaint that he cannot continue to increase the supply of electricity to go on. Surely, if he prays in aid the Electricity Act he must have paid some attention to the patent and gross difficulties under which the electricity suppliers are labouring just now, and, indeed, the catastrophes which have come upon this country as the result of the shortage of electricity on more than one occasion. The analogies which he brings up are disastrous to his cause.
He prays in aid the compensation Clauses. The compensation provisions in the case of gas are utterly different, and ought to be utterly different, from those in the case of electricity. As the Minister very well knows, the Stock 447 Exchange basis which he took in the case of electricity scarcely applies to the gas undertakings. Five per cent. of the electricity undertakings are quoted on the 'Stock Exchange and 95 per cent. are not, and it would have paid the industry very well if they had taken a hint from the ex-Chancellor—I beg his pardon, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—and devoted a much greater amount of attention to seeing that their shares stood at a high premium on the Stock Exchange than to promoting the output of the pro—duct which indeed they claim to be their chief concern.
The difficulties of this country will certainly not be conjured away by the eloquence of the Minister. Why is it necessary to undertake this? He has given the House no explanation of that. Still more, why is it necessary to undertake it at this time? It is not contended that the industry is in a state of bitter warfare between capital and labour, which certainly, to our great misfortune, and to the great misfortune of the country, could have been said of the great coal industry. It is not the case that it is an industry which had to be integrated rapidly and completely to deal with urgent problems of production and supply, as has already been the case in the electricity industry, and is going to be increasingly so. There are no sections in the flow of a stream of gas to a tube as there are in the supply of electric current along a wire. It is not necessary to key the production of one gas area into another as it is necessary to key the production of one electricity area into another. Indeed, the only thing we heard on Second Reading, and it has not even been quoted by the Parliamentary Secretary on Third Reading, is some shadowy project that the gas main from London may be laid to the South coast.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
My right hon. Friend suggests Bournemouth, but really I cannot believe that the main constructive argument of this Government is that in return for a great upset of industry such as this, after sitting up night after night and takings days, and indeed weeks of Parliamentary time, there will be some amelioration of the gas supplies in the great city of Bournemouth.
448 The onus of changing the law is on those desiring to make the change, and the Minister has not shouldered his responsibility in the very slightest. On the point that the profit motive should be removed from industry, the Minister himself said that already, in a third of this industry, that did not apply. In a third of this industry, the third under local authority administration, that did not apply at all. We shall hope to examine that and give examples shortly.
The way in which the Government have treated, and are about to treat, those who in the past have carried out the abolition of the profit motive and the municipalisation of the gas industry, is a very shabby chapter indeed in the relations between central authority and local authority. I am sure that it will lead to an increasing amount of indignation as the terms of that bargain begin to be shown. But even with regard to the private companies, they are certainly under completely different conditions from those of ordinary private companies. They are working under a close code of regulations. They are strictly limited. They have ceilings fixed, and they have been under the just survey and scrutiny of this House for a hundred years. It is not true to say that we have to embark upon this project to effect an untroubled procedure in the gas industry, or that the indignation of gas employees is constantly being roused by the sight of gross and outrageous profits being made by the private companies for which they are working.
The second point was the inefficiency of the industry. Surely the Minister might have paid some tribute to the remarkable expansion made by this industry in recent years, an industry whose death has been prophesied by pundits and planners ever since the first electric are illuminated a somewhat dubious world. The modern gas corporations, with the devices and techniques under which the industry has integrated itself, have expanded their sales by 80 per cent. in 13 years, and the whole industry has expanded its sales by 40 per cent. in 13 years. Even the Heyworth Report, on which the Minister laid some stress, forecast an expansion of only 20 per cent. in ten years under the project. I do not think the Minister has made out his case. In fact, I think he has scarcely referred to the other great 449 line of argument for nationalising industries, that they were inefficient and required a great push forward by the electorate.
The production of gas from solid fuel in this country is almost as great as in the United States of America, an enormous industrial country with half the horsepower of the world and three times our population. Apart from its natural gas supplies, which we do not enjoy in this country, our production of gas is nearly as great. We have 11½ million meters as against 10½ million meters in the United States, and we have 68,000 miles of main as against 89,000 miles of main to cover the whole continent of the United States. Those are figures to which the Minister might have devoted a certain amount of attention when he was arguing that, without this radical change, brought about by a further stress upon the staff and direction of a Ministry already overloaded almost to breaking point, it was impossible for the industry to compete under modern conditions.
About the third point, a cheaper and more plentiful supply of gas, the Minister was discreetly silent. More plentiful gas we have heard of from the Minister. He simply says, "This expansion cannot go on." That is his word to the consumer. "Cut down, switch off, turn off the taps, you cannot have it." These are very laudable sentiments from the Minister, but they certainly do not justify the encomiums with which the Parliamentary Secretary commended the Bill to the House. The Minister went on to say that a great expansion ought to come with the use of consultative councils. I was reading in the papers recently the account of the debates of a local authority, certainly not a Conservative local authority, the local authority of Southwark, and they said, bitterly:In our own municipal undertaking … we had persuaded people to have all kinds of electrical apparatus in their homes, and now we find they have been let down. They have been told the price is being put up by 27 per cent. If the council had increased their charges by even 25 per cent., the town hall would have been besieged by people demanding to know why.Indeed it would, because they were going there to the people who had executive authority. Where will they go now? They will go to some shadowy body not yet set up and, on the analogy of the 450 Electricity Act, not to be set up for some time, whose address they will have the utmost difficulty in securing, whose attendance they will never be able to compel, and whose proceedings, as we understood from the Committee stage of the Bill, will be conducted in private. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Oldfield) who said on Second Reading:In the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House there is the feeling that under nationalisation the consumer will be left high and dry. In all my election campaigns … I have never been asked a question about the gas department. That apparent lack of interest by the consumer is over-emphasised, and should not be carried too far."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 423.]Indeed, that is borne out by the Southwark Council in its bitter complaint about the action under the Electricity Act.
It is impossible to suppose that complaints to a shadowy consultative council will ever replace the power of direct interference which electors have over the elected representatives of the people. Even the Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that. He said that the Government hoped to have great results from the consultative councils because, when they really did something of importance, they could have direct access to the Minister. That is the bottleneck. I ask the Minister's pardon for referring to him as a bottleneck for he is a most temperate man; to use a better simile, I would say that it is across his desk that the complaints from all the consultative councils in Great Britain will have to go in the long run, when there is an argument to be fought out and a decision to be made. That is our complaint. We complain that the consultative councils, the area boards, this vast facade which is being erected, are merely surrounding the Minister with a series of screens, a Hampton Court Maze of bureaucracy, through which the unhappy complainant, the elector or the consumer, will have to penetrate if he is finally to get to the middle where sits the Minister, the sole executive authority.
It is useless for the Minister to surround the Gas Council with a comparable case to that of the Electricity Board, which is now enshrined like a goldfish in a glittering glass case costing £100,000 per annum. The public can see it swimming about 451 inside but they cannot interfere with it. They cannot touch it. They can rap on the glass bowl to try to attract the attention of the goldfish. They may even drop in ant's eggs to try to get it to the surface to perform those swallowing motions which perhaps are the only things in which it is fully efficient. But if they want anything done, they must by-pass this elaborate machine and get to the poor old, dingy, dusty Minister sitting in his poor old, dingy, dusty quarters surrounded by a set of poor old, dingy, dusty officials with the pouches under their eyes growing larger from day to day and night to night as they try to straighten out this interminable tangle of bureaucracy and red tape which the Minister has created in the name of efficiency.
At the time of the Second Reading of this Bill, the "Manchester Guardian" said that as for the Gas Council they could be correctly described as a farcical body. I think that that is too harsh. I would say that it was more comedy than farce. Farce is meant to make us laugh. These bodies are more likely to excite our pity than to make us laugh. I have heard that on the whole it is more wrath than laughter that is usually excited by the other two bodies—the Coal Board or the Electricity Authority—amongst the public and, more particularly, amongst the consumers.
The Minister has brought forward a Measure which, even with the best will in the world, the Parliamentary Secretary has only been able to commend most coldly to the House this afternoon. He has brought forward a Measure which in its compensation Clauses seems to be animated by a simple desire to get something for nothing. It ought to be remembered that those who get something for nothing must get it from somebody. In this case they are getting it either from the company or, more particularly in the case of Scotland, from the local authorities.
The compensation is in the most extraordinary terms that have ever been offered. The comparative figures, the normal arbitration values which used to be paid by local authorities, were £1,577 per million cubic feet sold. Under this Measure, instead of £1,500, the great City of Glasgow will get £607, and the town of Lanark—my own home town—will get 452 £669. The town of Lanark has had a long history. It is nearly as old as the City of Berwick and it has learned a lot about the wiles of government in that time. It did not pay off any of its debt. Therefore, it will get £669. The thrifty City of Aberdeen, excited by the many stories which are told about its inhabitants, paid off a great deal of debt and it will get £73. Can anyone say that there is any fair basis of compensation in a scheme which gives £669 to one unit and £73 to another? The City of Leeds will get £142, as will the City of Edinburgh.
I wonder what the representatives of these local authorities will be told by their electors when the fortunate authorities who did not pay off their debt walk away with swag amounting to £607 or £669, and those who did their best to be thrifty have to be content with £142 or even £73? The effect of this system seems to be to encourage the citizen to pile up debt and to speculate on the Stock Exchange. These are the two lessons of this Bill. Do not pay off your debts if you are a local authority, and you will be paid large sums of money. If you are a company, spend your time not in producing gas but in making sure that your shares stand at a high premium on the Stock Exchange. If no dealings have taken place, go out, get men of straw to gamble in these counters and raise the value of the paper which is engaged in industry. Then the Government will pay you high sums as against those who ploughed back their money into the industry and who, consequently, find their shares standing at a low figure on the Stock Exchange.
I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House, but this Bill has not been sufficiently examined. I have very little doubt that, in another place, it will receive further examination. I have not spoken, nor indeed do I intend to dilate, upon the astonishing act of the Government in sweeping away the co-partnership schemes, nor indeed on the astonishing defence of this action by the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that everything was left except co-partnership. That is just the gravamen of the charge. He said, "Of course, we are sweeping away co-partner-ship, but leaving everything else." The whole point and argument on co-partner-ship schemes is that they are in themselves a most interesting and hopeful line along 453 which to proceed in the liquidation of the industrial revolution in the release of tension between the "haves" and the "have-nots," which was one of the evil things of the 19th century; and towards the solution of which the 20th century is proceeding, and which it certainly must solve or perish.
Karl Marx was right when he said that if wealth continued to pile up at one end of the scale and poverty continued to pile up at the other, at the end of the day, a flash would take place with an explosion in which society would be destroyed. The whole object of our legislation and of our economic system must be to release that tension, to bring that level to a more reasonable proportion and to make sure that the workers themselves feel a sense of proprietorship in the industries in which they are engaged. To suggest that the only way in which that can be done is to ensure that every complaint that is made has to go to the desk of the Minister of Fuel and Power and there jostle for attention with all the complaints from the coal industry, the electricity industry and all the innumerable day-to-day activities which the Minister has, is to show what can only be described as ignorance of the facts of life.
The Bill, in its Preamble, and I quote it for the sake of greater accuracy, states that it is to—Provide for the establishment of Area Gas Boards and a Gas Council … for the transfer to such Boards as aforesaid and to the said Council of property, rights, obligations and liabilities of gas undertakers and other persons; for co-ordinating the activities of Area Gas Boards and the National Coal Board … to amend the law relating to the supply of gas … and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.The Gas Boards and the Gas Council are illusions. The transfer to such Boards or to the Minister of the property of gas undertakers and other persons is, as I have shown, a sheer series of looting transactions calculated to discourage initiative in private individuals and saving amongst local authorities. The co-ordination of the activities of the area boards and the National Coal Board is one of the purposes of the Bill which at no period has the Minister fully explained. As for the phrase "and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid," if the object is bad, it cannot be improved by the way in which these objectives are approached or carried out.
454 For all these reasons, we say that this is a thoroughly bad Bill, that it has not been adequately defended by the Minister, that it has not been adequately amended either by the Committee upstairs or by the House on Report, that it will only add to the confusion and muddle in which the -fuel affairs of this country are already too deeply embedded and bogged down. For all these reasons, I have pleasure in moving the rejection of this Bill.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ewart (Sunderland)
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said that in the Committee stage of this Bill, which continued for such long and tortuous hours well into the night, and, indeed, right through the night on two occasions, the Conservative Party had given close scrutiny to the Bill by promoting 76 Amendments. One would be led to believe that adequate consideration had been given by the Conservative Party and by hon. Gentlemen opposite to this matter. But, when one considers that hours were taken up, predominantly by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), on the comic definition of a gas inspector and on eulogising seaside landladies, and that we were treated to a very long treatise by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) on spelling reform and the question whether the word "nationalization" should be spelt with "z" instead of "s," we can see that the whole purpose and intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite were bent on time-wasting, on frustrating arguments and purely on defeating, if possible, the passage of this Bill. We who sat through those long weeks and long nights have been complimented and told that we made Parliamentary history, but I would prefer the operation of the Guillotine on major Measures of this importance in the future, in order to prevent the nonsensical attitude taken up by the Opposition in the Committee stage of this Bill.
We have been told that there was no need to co-ordinate through nationalisation an industry which has played a vital part in our economy in the past and which has, I am sure, a very great future, but let me tell hon. Members who argue in that direction that there are wide rural areas in this country which are starved of gas supplies. There are areas which are inefficiently supplied with gas, and I have one particular instance 455 in mind. During the war, when I was working in the Cleveland area in an important industry which was vital to the war effort, and in which the raw material was produced and turned into steel within a few yards of the production point, the workers in that industry, who were exerting their fullest efforts in production, could not get sufficient gas to boil a kettle. Argument upon argument was advanced that this was one of the reasons why absenteeism was mounting in the district. Faced with austerity in food supplies through rationing, the fact was that, whatever supplies were available, this so-called industry of efficiency could not supply the fuel requirements of that area to the extent that, very often, the workers had to take uncooked or partly cooked meals or waste time waiting for a sufficient gas pressure to operate.
The constituency which I represent has a gas concern, privately-owned and highly efficient. It operates in a heavy industrial area and supplies gas to a compact and dense district. It is efficient, and its charges are reasonable, but there is no opportunity for extending the supply by that private company to wider areas of distribution in the hinterland which is starved of gas supplies. That is one of the arguments, and probably the strongest argument, why this industry should come under national ownership, co-ordination and control.
This Measure will give great satisfaction to the workers in the industry. It eradicates many of the anomalies which exist at present. Through the establishment of the Gas Council, which will be representative of all thought and opinion in the industry and representative of the workers' interests, for the first time in the history of this industry there will be machinery to regulate wages on a national basis which means the abolition of regional control as we know it at present. Regional control at present follows the procedure, which has been operative since 1942 or 1943, of what is known as the war-time advance in wages upon the then existing and far too low standard of wages in the industry. In the regional areas the wage system has been broken down to such an extent that it has covered nine different rates relating to rural and urban districts. I am convinced that that system will be broken by the establishment 456 of the Gas Council, which will regulate and control wages so as to cover the whole field of the gas industry.
This Bill also provides for welfare conditions, health services and efficiency in the industry. The one drawback in this industry is that there are no adequate welfare services. While most industries which are under some form of national control are advancing along the line of welfare and health services, this industry, which has long been the Cinderella of industries, not only from the point of view of low wages but also welfare conditions, will have the opportunity after the vesting date, of establishing adequate health and welfare services and efficiency, covering the workers in the industry, to the ultimate benefit of the industry and of production as a whole.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities said that co-partnership schemes were about to go. The history of co-partnership covers only a limited field in the industry. I can say with confidence that one of the biggest regions in the country covering three counties, has not a co-partnership scheme in any single unit. The field of co-partnership schemes is limited, and co-partnership applies only to large industries mainly in the South of England. Co-partnership was established by private contract between employers and employees. No one will argue against the merits of such an arrangement, but the significant feature of it is that it was established principally where trade union organisation was at the lowest possible level. These were private treaty arrangements between both sides of the industry, and one can only conclude that this arrangement was advanced for the purpose of frustrating and preventing any attempt by the workers to organise themselves.
In the Commitee stage it was argued that co-partnership schemes should continue because co-partnership provided incentive.
§ Mr. Ewart
Well, it might be so, to a limited extent, but, speaking of the industry as a whole, I say that there are three grades on the workers' side—gas inspectors, stokers and the industrial labourers, the latter constituting the 457 largest proportion of the workers in that industry. It is the only industry I know—and my knowledge is fairly extensive—the has not got a graded schedule of rates in operation. In the main, the whole of the workers, apart from two categories, are looked upon as general labourers, and before the war the bulk of them were regarded as casual general labourers. Therefore, the arguments which have been advanced from the other side that this industry is perfect in all its ramifications cannot be substantiated.
According to the Bill, co-partnership schemes will continue until regulations are made a month before the vesting date. So far as my information goes, the copartners in this industry are quite content to accept the same treatment as the rest of the people who have been displaced. They are perfectly willing that their holdings shall be converted to British Gas Stock, but I understand that they are concerned that when certain perquisites have been afforded, such as cheap gas, coal, fittings and the like, they shall continue. The Minister has wisely provided that on this question he shall consult with the organised body representing co-partner-ship. I can tell hon. Members that that organised body is the trade union in the industry, so that there is ample opportunity in the Bill for claims to be heard and, after due consideration by both sides, for recommendations to be made. I think that does full justice to the beneficiaries under co-partnership.
On the question of workers representation in industry, I listened with interest the other day to the arguments advanced by Members of the Liberal Party, and it was obvious to me that none of the speakers had any knowledge of industry or of workers' representation. The argument was advanced that to the area boards there should be elected by ballot people from outside the existing constitutional machinery of organised workers. Those who suggest such a scheme are ignorant of the fact that it is impossible to organise such a ballot over wide areas. The candidate would not be known; the representative selected may not be the best possible choice, and may not have had the best experience in the industry. A vital part will be played in this industry by the shop stewards' organisations and the workers' councils. In co-operation with managements at unit level the best possible 458 service will be given under workers' representation in promoting efficiency in the industry and, what is more important, promoting reasonable understanding between both sides.
For those reasons I went into the Division Lobby to vote against the Liberal Party the other night—not because I do not believe in workers' representation, but because I believe workers' representation should be on the level at which the workers are employed, in co-operation and collaboration with the rest of those engaged in the industry from the management down. I believe the workers themselves entirely agree with me on this point. Through the operation of joint consultative councils and through machinery of that character the best service can be given by the workers. It has also to be borne in mind, however, that there is a workers' representative on the Gas Council, with experience of the organisation of workers. The voice of experience in organising representative labour will be brought to bear in the deliberations of that Council which will cover the whole wide field of industry.
Because of that, I say that the workers in the industry and the trade unions concerned in the industry welcome this Measure and look upon it as the only possible solution to the difficulties which have arisen in the industry, not only because of unco-ordinated private enterprise, not only because of the inability to bring the small units together to greater efficiency in the distribution of gas, but because of the difficulties and cleavages in which such circumstances arise and the effect on the conditions and wages of the workers in this great industry.
I think I speak here for the Labour Party side of the Gas Committee when I congratulate the Minister on the patience and tolerance he showed throughout the Committee stages, and the ready facility with which he accepted any Opposition Amendments which improved the Bill. He must be commended for that. I also say that the willingness with which he has met organisations representing various sections which are affected through this Measure, and brought the experience and light of those organisations to bear on his decisions by Amendments in Committee, is highly commendable. I am sure that it is a happy augury for this 459 Bill, with all its difficulties and trials in passage, that it is received with such acclamation, by the workers and trade unionists in the industry, and I am sure with a measure of satisfaction by some of the so-called "displaced people" in the industry who will say, "Well, it is designed to operate for the future benefit of the industry."
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart) began his speech by saying that wide rural areas were starved of gas supplies. I hope he bore in mind that a night or two ago we on this side of the House moved an Amendment asking that one of the duties of the gas boards should be to extend supplies of gas to persons requiring such supplies in urban and rural areas. We had an assurance that, although those words would not be put in the Bill, the principle would be considered.
The hon. Member went on to talk about welfare provisions and said that there are no adequate welfare provisions in the gas industry. I challenge that statement as inaccurate. I say that in many of the companies in the gas industry there are the best welfare provisions existing in any industry. Of course, he was really showing the innate hostility of the trade unions to the principle of co-partnership. He said that co-partnership schemes were the result of private contracts between employers and employees. I suppose in that he begrudged the fact that there were no jobs among them for trade union officials. He went on to say that many of the co-partners were ready to have their holdings transferred to British Gas Stock. I feel that also is inaccurate. Many of them look on these holdings, accumulated over a period of years, as an integral part of their lives—a small stake in the industry in which they have worked. Many of them have said so. In fact, most of the hon. Member's statements in regard to co-partners were inaccurate.
He also criticised the action of the Opposition during the Committee stage, as did the Parliamentary Secretary, and I will reply to that in a moment, but first I want to make one point with the Parliamentary Secretary about what he described 460 as the impossibility of integration being achieved under private enterprise. He said that the large municipal units refused to participate in integration. I think it is quite possible, and may still be possible if this Bill is not passed—and I hope it is not—for those large municipalities themselves to form the core of areas. There are quite a few of the smaller municipal units which have been taken over, and I quote Nantwich and Mossley as two companies that have already been integrated. Before we go further, I should like to say that although I am neither a director nor a stockholder in the gas industry I should declare what Erskine May would term "a remote interest."
The Parliamentary Secretary spent a great deal of what was a very short speech in criticising the action of the Opposition. He called my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who led us, a filibuster. That is a title which has a nice old-world sound, reminding me of Drake and Hawkins and the Spanish Main, but the actual meaning of it today in the Oxford Dictionary is "one who practises obstruction in a legislative assembly." I think that is an insult which should be resisted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth is quite able to look after himself and it is not necessary for me to defend him, but, as one who spent what I think everyone will admit was a very considerable time in Committee upstairs, I should like to make one or two remarks on this accusation of obstruction and repetition.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
I am sorry to interrupt, but I did not hear the definition which the hon. and gallant Member gave of this word, from the Oxford Dictionary. I should like to hear it.
§ Colonel Clarke
It has come to mean "One who obstructs in a legislative assembly." I think the hon. Lady will find that in the smaller Oxford Dictionary. I firmly repudiate that accusation. I say there was no obstruction. I say there was the minimum of repetition necessary to produce answers. What is a man to do if he asks a question and the gentlemen sitting opposite sit mum, do not get up, say nothing at all? What is a man to do if hon. Gentlemen opposite get up and give a learned and involved legal account which is quite unintelligible, or get themselves ravelled in a financial 461 maze? He can only ask that question again. A certain amount of repetition is, therefore, inevitable if one does not get the answer. I have often reflected how much better it would be if right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench of the Government sometimes got up and said, "I do not know the answer; I cannot get at my advisers at the moment; I will do that afterwards; I can give you an answer tomorrow or at the next stage of the Bill." That would save a lot of time instead of the business dragging on until we get a closure, and then there is a bad feeling afterwards.
I feel that the record of the Opposition in having had some 160 Amendments accepted or taken as a basis for Government Amendments is a very good one. It has gone a long way to make a bad Bill rather less bad. I feel that if the Government want to grumble they should grumble at themselves. They are to blame. Somebody advised them badly, in the first place, saying that this Bill would take a great deal shorter time than the Electricity Act. Why? It covers a lot more ground. It replaces about 12 general Acts and, actually, some of the best-known errors in those Acts, which have provided a livelihood for many lawyers for many years, are still there. It provides a whole lot of problems. I quote the Second Schedule, for example, which came before the Committee upstairs after having gone through two other Bills without any real examination at all.
This Bill required a longer time for consideration, and yet it was given four weeks less in the Commons than the Electricity Act. I am sympathetic with the Minister. I feel he has been ground between the upper and nether millstones of the Lord President, who obstinately adheres to his ill-conceived programme, and of the Opposition who are determined to carry out their duties and to consider every detail of the Bill. The source of the trouble is the undemocratic procedure of the Government in trying to rush too much legislation through in too short a time. That is no new policy. It can be found in the book by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "The Problem of the Socialist Government," which, I believe, is on the bedside table of every Minister today. That undemocratic 462 procedure was extended into the Committee, and resulted in 41 Closures.
I could also say much about the way in which the Government's back bench supporters in the Committee were apparently not allowed to talk. We missed much from that, because there were a lot of them with very considerable knowledge of the gas industry, and of the lives of the workers, and their contributions to our deliberations would have been most valuable. Now and then we did have a little help from some of them who could bottle themselves down no longer listening to the mistakes being uttered from their Front bench. We had the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison), who gave us an interesting talk from the miners' point of view of the gas industry and what they hoped to get from it; we had the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins), who spoke of the attitude of the trade unions to co-partnership; and the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer)—I much regret he was unable to speak more than he did—who at times gave us some useful help; and we had the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter), who kept us amused. I do not blame the Whips. It was not their fault that we suffered from the Government's undemocratic procedure. They were only carrying out their duty. I blame the system. It is regrettable.
As a result of all this labour, who is to benefit from the Bill? Who is to lose by it? The consumer, either the domestic or industrial consumer, is certainly not going to benefit. Can the Minister tell us he is certain that the price of gas and of coke and of by-products is to be cheaper? Are supplies to be extended? We asked that provision should be made in the Bill to ensure that they are extended, but the Government refused to put that provision into the Bill for fear of what they called uneconomic expenditure.
The workers? Are they to be adequately compensated for redundancy or for a worsening of their conditions? As between redundancy and a worsening of their conditions, I think that the worsening of conditions is the more to be feared. There will be loss of status by those transferred from small companies. Men who had hoped to spend their lives in the service of a company, and to obtain promotion in it, will lose the opportunity to do so, and will have to be transferred 463 from one undertaking to another if and when they are promoted in the nationalised industry. It is well known that in the electricity industry today there is much uncertainty and much heart burning about these things because the details have not yet been announced. I hope that in the case of the gas industry the details will be pronounced sooner.
Co-partners? They are most definitely losing. A good deal has been said about them already and I shall not repeat all those things now. If the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart) will travel in a bus in which gas workers are going home at night and will listen to their conversation, he will learn a good deal of what is being said by them at the present time.
The present owners of the industry—the shareholders—are being disgracefully treated. They are losing from 10 per cent. to 30 per cent. of their income. Most of these small investors—for the shares of investors in gas companies are mostly small investments—invest their money in gas for the sake of obtaining fixed, maintainable incomes, not for capital investment. They are people with small savings who have put them into gas to provide incomes for the last years of their lives. They may be co-partners or those who enjoy a share in trusts. The loss of their incomes is the thing which affects them most. To change their holdings into securities of equal capital value but producing less available income is to deal a very great blow to them.
As for the municipalities, £75 million is being taken from them to form a hidden reserve for the new boards. It will be difficult to follow that money unless accounts are very carefully got out. The Wigan company alone is giving up £543,000. There will be benefits from this hidden reserve, but they will not all go to those consumers and ratepayers who found the money for the municipal enterprises, but will be averaged over whole areas, and the benefits will go, not only to those who contributed, but to the much less provident as well.
What will be the benefit to the Ministry? I think they have quite enough on their plate already without taking over another industry. What benefit will there be to the country? It is now recognised that incentives must be 464 an integral part of industry. It has taken some time for that to be realised, but I think that it is recognised today. Here the Government are losing the incentives of co-partnership, of sliding scales, of competition with electricity, and of local rivalries between companies. Will the country benefit? I cannot believe that collective bargaining over wages between a complete monopoly and a trade union can really be an advantage—bargaining with no ceiling, bargaining at the expense of the consumer, who at all times will have to go on paying. It will be found that the wages will be too high, and that the price of gas will also be too high, and that ancillary industries will shut down, and exports fall off; and the effect of all this will be felt in the industry. The Government are operating without a safety valve.
Lastly, I come to the injustice to the directors. I shall not dwell on this long, but I must for a moment or two. Directors at present are the owners, in most cases, of three-year tenures. They are to be turned out at a moment's notice without any compensation at all. That is very definitely unjust. So far as I can see, the only defence of all this is, that it is necessary to defend the gas industry from the harm that may be caused by previous nationalisation plans, and that but for this nationalisation the industry would be at the mercy of the previously nationalised industries. I think that is a very uncertain insurance policy. I think there may be even greater danger to gas when nationalised from the highly centralised Coal Board. Much integration has been achieved already under private enterprise. I believe that with encouragement, that would have gone on and that all our objects would have been achieved with much less trouble and disturbance.
I do not like nationalisation, and I hate this Bill. It is the last chance I have of saying how much I dislike it. I still live in hope that through some cause the vesting day will never come. The day we know that it will come, and the day it comes, certainly will be unlucky for the industry. If the worst comes to the worst, and this Bill becomes law, we shall have to live with it. I want to make one or two suggestions whereby it may be a little less onerous. I think that one has learned from experience of industries already nationalised that they are by no means 465 faultless. Their structure and administration have been critcised, and rightly criticised.
There is something besides structure and administration. There is the moral side. I refer to "moral" in the sense of "moral" as opposed to "physical." I think that is well known to the Minister as a man of high ideals about the spirit of service in nationalised industry. I am sure that he realises that a proper spirit in industry cannot be created in a day; it cannot be created by inventing a new flag, by printing a new magazine or by athletic meetings and processions or things of that sort. That spirit is really the product of years of good team work by men in all grades, who know, respect and trust each other. It is a curiously persistent spirit once that it is established.
I have seen in two wars the way in which the spirit of good regiments has gone on all through those wars, in spite of the greatest difficulties. The Territorial regiments in both wars were neglected by the War Office, even almost slighted. They were mulcted for cadres and officers, and they suffered heavy casualties, but at the end of the wars they still had a spirit quite different from that of the units which were formed for war purposes only. In an old and happy industry like the gas industry there is a certain inherent spirit of that kind deeply ingrained, and I ask the Minister, with much earnestness, not to sacrifice lightly that spirit. It is difficult to grasp the intangible, but there are certain visible and material pillars that can be recognised. There are individuals, names and buildings, and manners and customs which are worth preserving. I hope that the new board will not be in too great a hurry to sweep many of them away.
Let me take the individuals first. In all grades of the gas industry, from directors to firemen, there will be found men whose fathers, grandfathers and even great grandfathers served in that industry and even in the same company. To them it means something more than a providor of wages or income. It was something traditional and ingrained in their very lives. It was a sort of home as well as a workshop. I hope that before pensioning some of these men, however good the terms, because they are redundant, the influence which they have among their 466 fellows in the industry and their many other values will be taken into account. I hope that it will be remembered that a man's age is not always related simply to the number of years that he has lived, and that there are times when infantile paralysis can be just as dangerous a disease as senile decay.
I think that it would be a great pity for many of these companies completely to lose their identity. If the name of some town or district which has been known for a very long time is suddenly changed into a number in an area it will be a great pity. It has always been found worth while to keep regimental titles. There are old buildings, too, like the Imperial Gasholders at Fulham, which mean quite a lot to the men who work round them, and I hope that they will be regarded as worth preserving. I do not think I need say more on that score. I think that I have made my point. Napoleon said, "The moral is to the physical as three is to one." He was talking about war. We are not talking about war, but in the gas service the spirit is much the same. The Minister has great opportunities, and although I hope that the need to recast the industry will never come about, if it does, I hope that he will bear that in mind. I hope that events in the next year may allow us to throw this Bill into the wastepaper basket. In that spirit, I shall, therefore, go into the Lobby tonight to vote against it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)
The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), whose sincerity and attention to our work upstairs we all admire, tried to acquit his friends of the charge of obstruction and repetition on the Committee stage. I do not think that he succeeded, for the reason that time after time concessions were made from the Government side, and not only concessions but useful suggestions were accepted from the Opposition side, but the Debate went on and the talk continued for minute after minute, and sometimes it seemed to those who had to listen to it, for hour after hour. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me if I do not deal with his points on municipal compensation because we had a fair discussion on that matter on the Report stage.
467 The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) made a great point about the loss of consumer control in the future. He was, of course, very careful to concentrate on municipal undertakings, but the majority of the gas undertakings in the country, I believe I am right in saying, are company undertakings, where there has been no consumer control in the past. In large areas of the country, there will be, for the first time, when this Bill becomes law, a great degree of consumer control. I think that is a very complete answer to the charge made by the right hon. and gallant Member.
I welcome the Bill, and I am convinced that the House will give it a Third Reading. I personally find the gas industry an extremely interesting industry. I fell in love with electricity some years ago, and it is sometimes not easy later in life to resist a family likeness. I confess that my main love is still electricity, and in that I am quite unlike the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who often gives the impression that he prefers gas to electricity, and I certainly disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead, who appears to support the suggestion that gas should be used to milk cows. I think that he made that point on the Report stage. I feel, however, that for that particular job electricity is infinitely more flexible. We must all recognise that the gas industry is an old established industry, an honourable industry and a valuable industry. It employs hundreds of thousands of men and women. I believe that it has a great future to be reckoned with, and that it needs post-war legislation in order to face that future successfully.
I do not believe that it will be denied by hon. Gentlemen on the other side that legislation of some kind was essential; but just what that future will be in relation to electricity, in particular, I do not know. Anyhow, that is something for the consumers to decide. Therefore, I am glad that there is no provision in the Bill for electricity and gas co-ordination at too low a level. We do not want tidy schemes for putting, by near divine dispensation, gas and electricity in their proper places. I believe that that is a fatal outlook, which would be opposed to the best interests of both gas and electricity. My 468 right hon. Friend made abundantly clear, during Second Reading and in Committee, that he believes in consumer choice, and I was extremely glad to have that assurance from him. It seems to me that the Bill contemplates, first of all, gas as a public service run for the public good, standing, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, very firmly on its own financial feet, and looking the world, and the electricity industry in particular, in the face.
§ Mr. Palmer
Well, from a consumer point of view the main competitor of the gas industry is the electricity industry. That brings me to my first main reason for thinking this Bill to be a good Bill. I hope that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth will listen to this point, because he did make a reference to it on Second Reading. I believe that this Bill gives the gas industry a fighting chance to survive against the powerful, energetic, nationalised electricity industry.
§ Mr. Bracken
As the hon. Member was good enough to make a reference to me, perhaps I might be allowed to return the compliment by saying that the powerful, well-organised electricity industry went out of business a few Sundays ago, but gas continued faithfully to serve the consumers. Since Lord Citrine took over the electricity industry it has not made very much progress.
§ Mr. Palmer
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on that point. I remember the insinuation he made in a supplementary question on the matter, and I think I made a very effective answer to it in a supplementary immediately following. I pointed out that the reasons for the breakdown in electricity on that Sunday—I hope I shall not be ruled out of Order on this—were purely technical, and there was a breakdown of an exactly similar character in 1934.
§ Mr. Palmer
No, 1934. There was another breakdown of a different type in 1931, and another in 1945. We will leave it there. For those reasons, I believe the gas stockholders sighed with relief inwardly at the prospect of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Palmer
They did not do it aloud because that would have embarrassed hon. and right hon. Members opposite too much. It would have made it difficult for the Opposition to talk about this Bill, and in particular about the wickedness of Stock Exchange valuations; and I am quite sure the gas stockholders of this country would not wish to make difficult the careers of future Chancellors of the Exchequer.
The second main reason why I think we should give this Bill a Third Reading is that it makes uniform throughout the industry an old-established principle in industry—the principle of public ownership for a monopoly service. Perhaps in this sense I may be something of an heretic on my own side, but I do not believe in nationalisation for every industry and every service. I believe that socialisation and Socialism are very much wider than mere nationalisation; but I certainly believe that nationalisation is suitable for gas—an industry where profit is a secondary consideration and is not always an adequate test of efficiency. So much for the point of public principle. But it is not only a question of public ownership on a national scale being sound in principle. I believe that in this case, in 1948, it is also sound in method. I have seen no answer so far to the main contention of the Heyworth Report, that complete public ownership is the only method by which the larger units of supply and administration necessary for efficiency can come into being reasonably soon. I think that would be a fair statement of the main contention of the Hey-worth Report.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Could the hon. Member give us the exact quotation from the Heyworth Report? I am quite certain that is not an accurate statement.
§ Mr. Palmer
I will read from paragraph 233, which I hope the hon. Member will follow:The next consideration is how larger units are to be brought into being. No voluntary process is likely to be sufficiently speedy to satisfy present and future requirements.
§ Mr. Palmer
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to continue. I did not think that it was seriously challenged 470 that the Heyworth Report came out in favour of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Palmer
I have read the Report very carefully. I believe that in this matter of the larger units the parallel with electricity reorganisation is very striking.
My third main reason why I think we should give this Bill a Third Reading is that it goes further than previous nationalisation, Measures towards administrative decentralisation. The proposed Gas Council is loose-jointed compared with both the National Coal Board and the British Electricity Authority, which proves that my right hon. Friend is no slave to precedent: he adjusts his policy to facts as he finds them.
In the remaining relatively short time I propose to detain the House I want to say a few words about the Committee stage. I found the Committee stage a terrifying ordeal, and it certainly converted me to the case for a time-table procedure.
§ Mr. Palmer
No, not at all. I believe in effective working democracy. The Committee stage converted me to the need for a time-table on Bills of this kind. A time-table would have made it possible for us to have devoted the majority of the time to considering really sensible Amendments, because from time to time the Opposition did put down one or two sensible Amendments. A time-table would have made it possible to have done what the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead wished us to do, and which all of us on the Government side of the Committee wished to do if circumstances had permitted it—
§ Mr. Palmer
—that is, for both sides of the Committee to have joined in discussion. But as it was, we had much nonsense mixed up with bits and pieces of sound arguments from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. For instance, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman)—with whom I had a public debate some time ago; I won, although perhaps in 471 favourable circumstances; and I am sorry he is not here, because I am about to pay him a tribute—spoke very convincingly in Committee in favour of having an annual efficiency audit, as did the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings). I was so impressed by the arguments that I did not vote for the Government on that particular Amendment.
§ Mr. Palmer
Well, I wish my right hon. Friend had been able to accept that suggestion from the Opposition, which I personally thought a very excellent suggestion, which I believe has a wide application to nationalised industries outside the gas industry.
I thought that we had a very bad discussion on Clause 56, which deals with negotiating machinery for salaries, wages and conditions, and also deals with joint consultation. On that occasion, the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who is not here at the moment, said that there would be negotiations over the whole mass of agreements, not with the majority of the people who made them, but simply with some unions who happen to be sympathetic to the Government, whose Members are appointed by the Government to the Gas Council and area boards. Tempers were somewhat frayed, and I described that as a shameful allegation. I believe it to be quite untrue, and it would be most unfortunate if that were generally believed.
I have had some experience of the working of this kind of negotiating machinery in the case of the electricity industry, as I happen to be on its technical staff National Joint Board. There has been no suggestion that particular unions are selected for negotiating purposes. I believe that there are 12 or 15 separate unions recognised by the British Electricity Authority for the purposes of negotiation, several of which have no political affiliations of any kind. One of the unions, N.A.L.G.O., is not even affiliated to the T.U.C. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I quite agree that it is a pity, and I believe that N.A.L.G.O. will soon come round to a more sensible point of view. But that disposes of the shameful suggestion that only certain selected unions 472 will be recognised for negotiating purposes. Providing a union can show that it has a claim to represent a substantial number of employees, then it seems to me that its recognition will be automatic under the terms of this Bill.
A great deal more could be said in praise and critical examination of this Bill. I should like to have taken some time in discussing the very fascinating subject of price policy, and also to have discussed the matter of promotions, but I shall deal with only one other point. Considerable publicity has been given to the alleged inflated salaries being paid in nationalised industries. My own view is that we are tending to pay engineers and skilled administrators too little and members of boards too much. I cannot see why we cannot get sufficient men and women sufficiently disinterested and capable to serve the country and the principles in which they believe without the carrot of a salary well above that of their chief executive officers.
I hope that these new gas boards will confine themselves to broad policy questions. I am not a believer in functional boards, where the members have departmental responsibilities. I consider that to be a bad arrangement. These gas boards should leave the carrying out of policy to their engineers and managers, and the members of the boards should not be jealous of the salaries paid to their engineers and managers. I believe this to be a good Bill which deserves a Third Reading. I want to join with my hon. Friends in congratulating the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary upon their patience and industry. I also want to congratulate my hon. Friends and myself, because I am sure that never in the history of this Parliament have so many Labour Members kept quiet for so long.
§ Colonel Clarke
I did not interrupt the hon. Member earlier, but I should like to point out that cows can be and are being milked by gas. As an agricultural Member, I cannot let the statement pass that cows cannot be milked by gas.
§ Mr. Palmer
No doubt that is the case. Gas can, of course, be used for a number of things—it is very appropriate for committing suicide—but I have yet to see gas wireless sets.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
As our deliberations are now drawing to a close, it seems to me that we should try to stand back and look at things in perspective, and ask ourselves the question whether this Bill is going to make for a more efficient industry, for better and cheaper services to the public and for better and more interesting jobs for those in the industry. If the answer to these questions is "yes," we should then say "good luck" to the Bill. The first thing we ought to remember is that the industry to which this major surgical operation is to be applied is very far from being an ailing, decrepit or moribund industry, but is a vigorous, developing and efficient industry, with a record of harmony in its internal relations and in its relations with the public. Moreover, it is an industry in which there is a price and dividend control and no charge has been made of its exploiting the public.
In these circumstances, very strong arguments indeed must be made out for radical interference. It must be shown that still better results and still more rapid progress will be achieved by the new organisation. It would be an irrelevant and unworthy argument to say that because certain other industries are being brought under national control the same pattern of organisation should be clamped down on this flourishing industry. I try to look at these nationalisation Measures with an open mind, but I confess that all the evidence to date has led me to form a bias against them, because they seem to contain far more seeds of inefficiency than seeds of efficiency. Nevertheless, the common-sense plan is to try to look at each case on its merits.
Let us remember in this connection the words of the Lord President of the Council that it is up to the nationalisers to prove their case. Throughout our long deliberations in Committee, I tried to keep this in the background of my mind, and to apply the test to each problem as it cropped up, of whether it will lead to greater efficiency. I hope that faithful band of Members opposite, during their three and a half months of rhetorical fasting, used their opportunity for meditation in the same way. Knowing how easily words come to them, and imagining that regular speech-making must be absolutely essential to their mental health, 474 I assure them that our hearts bled for them in their enforced and unaccustomed silence. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) must have "sighed inwardly" a great many times during that period. I trust that they have emerged purified and strengthened from their ordeal. I own that by the time we came to the end, I did not feel that the nationalisers had made our their case on this occasion, in spite of the industrious and courteous expositions of the Minister, the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary, and of such other hon. Members as were allowed to attempt the task. In spite of the efforts of these adroit exponents I personally do not feel that they prevented us from detecting a certain lack of faith on their part in many of the cases they were putting before us. Not that we take the line that no change is required in this robust industry; on the contrary, we favour further integration and further grouping of units, but we maintain that this can be done with far less injustice, trouble and expense by pushing ahead along the lines of the developments which have been followed in this industry during the past 20 or 30 years.
I would like to sum up the main objections I have to this Bill under three headings. First, compensation. I believe the methods adopted to be unfair both to individual shareholders and local authorities. Gas shareholders are, in the main, small and permanent shareholders, and whatever case can be made out for applying the method of Stock Exchange values in other cases I think it must be agreed that this is wholly inappropriate in this particular case. About 95 per cent. of gas securities are not, I believe, quoted on the Stock Exchange. We have been unable to convince Members opposite of the difference between a transaction entered into between a willing buyer and a willing seller and compulsory acquisition. I think it is unfair that there should be no compensation for part-time directors who have, in this industry, in most cases, rendered valuable service. In the minds of Members opposite they appear to be a class with no rights.
Then there is the principle which has been applied in the case of local authorities—the basis of outstanding loan balances. I believe that is extremely unfair to the financially prudent local 475 authority. Two local authorities could be applying identical charges. One could use its surplus to subsidise the rates and the other could plough its surplus back into the undertaking. Which of these two alternatives merits the most encouragement? While the Government are preaching the virtue of ploughing back profits they are, in this Bill, directly penalising companies and local authorities who have done this. This is in flagrant opposition to the principles of good management.
I beg the Government to consider these problems, not in isolation but from the point of view of the cumulative effects of what they are doing. Do they want to encourage thrift and productive investment, or do they want to encourage financial irresponsibility? There is a danger that the Government are creating the impression that the good citizen is one who squanders his resources rather than incur the stigma of becoming a capitalist. I believe that the provision of sufficient savings to provide for our capital expenditure in future will be a really serious problem. If that is so, then willingness to forgo immediate benefits for the sake of bigger benefits in future must be encouraged. If the Government go on as they are doing now, the will to save and invest productively will be destroyed and, with it, all prospects of a rising standard of living.
Another thing which has worried us during the passage of this Bill has been that some Members opposite have been extremely reluctant to admit the claims of what I might call objective justice. They seem to be easily persuaded that if a person can afford to bear a loss then there is no injustice, or that if it is administratively difficult to do justice, then the attempt need not be made. I also believe that the structure of this Bill is wrong. I fear remote, impersonal, control, and I beg the Government to remember the experience of the Coal Board. It would be tragedy if we had the same defects appearing here as are appearing now as a result of the nationalisation of coal. I hope the Government will also pay attention to the value of experienced commercial administrators. They are technicians just as much as anyone else, and seem to me to be undervalued in the nationalised coal industry. Success will depend on the degree of 476 devolution of responsibility, and particularly by and below the area boards. People are sometimes apt to think that the area board is a long way down, but I can assure hon. Members that, from the point of view of those in the operating unit, the area board is a very remote and distant organisation. The only possible way to maintain vitality is by giving the widest possible responsibility to the actual operating units.
Transfer from the local authorities is a sad step, and I find it very difficult to believe that this is a step towards industrial democracy; indeed, I think it is a step away from it, a reactionary step. I fear that the collossus which is being created under the Bill will be a poor substitute for local interest and local responsibility.
On the question of incentive, judging by the experience of other nationalised undertakings most intense efforts will have to be made to provide an effective incentive for individual effort, responsibility and interest. The provisions of the Bill are most unsatisfactory; they are halfhearted and permissive. There is no positive direction from the top. The Minister himself showed that he was sympathetic to this point during our discussions, but I was shocked to find that many of his followers regarded it as something not very important. That, I believe, is wholly wrong. Co-partnership has been killed by this Bill. We entirely agree that in its present form it could not be continued without modification, but I was shocked to find that many Members opposite welcomed not only the chance of eliminating the present forms of co-partnership but also eliminating the spirit behind it.
In co-partnership we have something which, in practice, has worked well. It has promoted harmony, loyalty and interest where it has been applied, and instead of ensuring that this practice is safeguarded and adapted it is largely being discarded. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart) suggested that its application was very limited. I believe that more than half the workers in gas undertakings other than municipal undertakings belong to a co-partnership scheme of some sort. That is a fairly substantial result to date. The hon. Member also suggested that co-partners were entirely satisfied with the compensation being offered to them under this Bill. I believe 477 he is entirely mis-informed on that point. The right hon. Gentleman said, in regard to this incentive business, that it was up to the boards, for they could start afresh. What a waste of time it is not to go on building on the foundations already laid. I do not want hon. Members to think that we are recommending a bureaucratically-devised scheme imposed from above. Far from it. We want active encouragement from the top of a variety of schemes devised locally to suit the particular local position. I beg the Government to remember that any scheme to inspire an individual to give of his best must be personal, intimate and local. That applies to joint consultation as much as anything.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) had the reckless audacity to forecast that this Bill would receive its Third Reading today. Whether that will prove to be the case or not I am not sure, but if this industry should become nationalised then the responsibility for its future will rest squarely on the shoulders of the Government. If and when that has happened, those of us who have stoutly opposed this Bill, because we believe that it is a step in the wrong direction, will do our utmost, as opportunity offers, to help the industry and to do what we can for it. Some hon. Members opposite think that there is something incongruous and against nature in adopting that course. I should like to assure them that in business it is something we do every day. As members of boards of directors we may stoutly oppose a certain policy being adopted, but when it is adopted we do our best to carry it out loyally, and that I prophesy will be the attitude of the leaders of the gas industry should the vesting date be reached.
The Government have the responsibility for seeing that under the Gas Council, the area boards and the subordinate units the standard of prompt, personal service and the tradition of good employment, which this industry has so well earned, shall be maintained. I hope particularly that the treatment of retired employees on pension will be the human treatment of a good employer rather than be governed by niggardly red-tape regulations. The industry is being handed over by the directors, employees and shareholders in a condition of which they can feel proud. We do not welcome this nationalisation. We cannot approve the fate which has 478 overtaken the industry, but we wish it well in the days that lie ahead.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) has made a very interesting contribution to this Debate with a very thoughtful speech. As I listen to hon. Members who belong to the Conservative Party, sometimes I feel, when they are stating their case, they are almost half-way in favour of the actual Bill they are attempting to oppose. The hon. Member for Tiverton said he felt sure that the leaders of the gas industry will co-operate loyally and will endeavour to organise the industry in the best interests of the country once this Bill has gone on to the Statute Book. One hon. Member interrupted to ask what was the attitude of the leaders of the Opposition. That is an interesting question, and so far I have not yet heard one of the Conservative Party leaders declare that, if that party is returned to power, they will unscramble this omelette. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) will answer that question. No one will deny that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth has enlivened these Debates. During the passage of this Bill he has introduced something of a test match atmosphere, and perhaps that is all for the improvement of these Debates. The Parliamentary Secretary, most of whose speech unfortunately was missed by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth—
§ Mr. Bracken
If the Liberal Party are to be represented here, they ought to be represented by someone who is accurate. I heard most of the speech of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Granville
I thought the right hon. Gentleman had had his full quota of clowning on this Bill. I merely stated what was a fact, that the right hon. Gentleman missed most of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Granville
If the right hon. Gentleman had been here he might have been under the impression that the Parliamentary Secretary was introducing a Bill for the supply of gas for Bournemouth, because the major part of his speech, after he had given statistics about work in Committee, dealt with most of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts to try to prevent this Bill becoming law. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart), in a speech which I thought was extremely interesting, referred to the Amendment proposed in Committee by the Liberal Party with the object of securing the election of workers to the area boards. In Committee the argument was used against it that it would be extremely difficult to go outside the existing machinery in order to elect workers to these boards. We in the Liberal Party are not tied to the method of election which we proposed. I hope this point will be dealt with by whoever replies for the Government, and that he will not ride off, as the Parliamentary Secretary did in answering this point in Committee, by saying that the machinery suggested would be unworkable. We are quite prepared to accept any method which will ensure that workers actually engaged in the gas industry will be appointed to all of these various boards in that capacity. I hope, therefore, that we are going to approach this industry, when the Bill becomes law, with a 1948 mind and not a 1939 mind. We Liberals—
§ Mr. Granville
We will increase them if that is all that is worrying the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Liberal Party, ever since the days of the Lloyd George industrial reform policy with its yellow book on industry, green book on land and coal report, has been in favour of the co-ordination of these national domestic services, as we were in the 1929 Parliament. I always regret that the Liberal Party's offer, which was made by the late Mr. Lloyd George in 1929, from these benches, for a five years period of power for the Labour Party if they carried out their "Labour for the Nation" policy on the reform of our 480 national services was not accepted. The villages and the small towns have waited too long for supplies of water, electricity and gas. I am tired of these permissive Bills which give local authorities the sanction and the right but do nothing else. We on these benches have recognised for a long time that we shall never get these services unless as a result of an area or a national plan. Therefore, I say that we should approach this matter with a 1948 mind and not a 1939 mind. There is too much of the past in these debates.
Once these nationalised boards and industries become the law of the land, they will be part of the daily life of this country. Let us face the facts. They are there, and we have got to co-operate to make them work efficiently in the national interests, and to give the cheapest and most efficient service to the people of the country. I do not think that certain week-end speeches in crying "stinking fish" to these nationalised industries are doing anything but reflect discredit upon the instigators of that policy. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, if he is to speak for the Opposition, will say whether, if they are returned as a Government, they are going to unscramble these nationalised omelettes, and if so how they propose to do it. I venture a prophesy as to what they will do: they will work to amend them and to make them as efficient as possible, while keeping these Acts on the Statute Book. The speeches of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are not going to make a great co-ordinated gas industry. Mere speeches will never do that. Parliamentary Bills alone will never do it. The only thing that will do it is the right technique, plus the fullest co-operation and efficiency inside the industry, once this House has decided to nationalise them. I am convinced that, as these nationalised industries are now almost part of our daily industrial lives, no one will ever attempt completely to unscramble that omelette in our time.
I am also convinced that the Government will find that they will have to endow chairs in universities for the study of the new technique and proper management in these industries. The Lord President of the Council, leaders of the Labour Party, including the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, have said 481 on many occasions that there was no considerable thought as to how it was to be done before the nationalisation policy was put to the country. The whole thing is in its infancy, and we do not, at the present time, know whether the technique of the Metropolitan Water Board or that of the London Transport Board, and so on, will be found to be the best method. We do know, however, that we should take these industries out of politics when we nationalise them and the new set-up has been organised. In particular, I want to see these industries, once they become part of our national set-up, taken out of party warfare, and the best technicians, scientific brains and managers in this country spending their time in research in order to get the best possible results. This is a challenge to our time.
The Minister has got a Bill, but not yet a national industry. I hope he will still listen to the suggestions made in Committee and in the Debates on this Measure, and I hope he will find a method to enable the workers who are actually working in the gas industry now to be elected to the various boards. I still hope that he will find some incentive, or a continuation of profit-sharing, after consultation has taken place. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not tell us that, when we have nationalised the industry, the only ambition of the workers engaged in it is to remain among the workers and never have an opportunity of promotion and going on the board. This is a definite principle. If we are to have that incentive, and if we are to have initiative and efficiency in the industry, we have got to bridge that gap between management and workers. I hope the Minister will not say to the workers in this industry that, in the new set-up, they must remain just workers for all time, and that there is no chance for them to get into the wider opportunities of local area or national management. I hope that the Minister and those who have to study these problems will find some method of dealing with this vital principle. For those reasons, the Liberal Party gives its support to the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)
I am sure the Government side of the House will very much welcome the promise given by the hon. Gentleman who has just 482 spoken that the whole strength of the Liberal Party will go into the Division Lobbies with us tonight. With most of what he said I am sure most hon. Members on this side will agree, but I think he makes a grave mistake when he considers that, merely by electing a certain number of workers to the boards, thereby the whole problem of workers' participation in industry will be solved. It is a far more difficult matter than that, but it is one which we have to face and resolve.
§ Mr. Davies
It may not be the right way in which to begin.
It is with some diffidence that I intervene in the Debate, because I did not participate in the marathon sittings of the Committee, and for that I am very grateful. I do not, therefore, feel that I can take part in this post-mortem on those sittings to which we have listened this afternoon, but I would say that, having listened to three speeches from the official Opposition benches, I do not feel that I missed a great deal; nor can I possibly share the views of those speakers that there was not sufficient time given to the discussion of this Bill. Apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory), there was nothing constructive which came from the Opposition benches, and, from the extent to which I have dipped into the Reports of the Standing Committee, and from what I have heard on the Report stage discussions, I think very little that is constructive has come from the other side, except that which has been incorporated in the Bill as a result of suggestions put forward. I would add that, in my view, too much of the discussion has been concerned, not with the industry's future, but with the financial protection of its past proprietors. There has been far too much concern on the part of the Opposition about the terms of acquisition and transfer, including the protection of the co-partnership schemes, and the way in which hon. Members opposite have spoken in that vein raises great suspicion in my mind. Far too much time was devoted to these matters, and too little to the organisation, administration and conduct of the industry once it has become nationalised.
It is on that organisational aspect that I would address one or two remarks. I 483 am far more concerned about the future operation and administration of the gas industry when it is nationalised than I am about its past history and the welfare of its former owners. As was pointed out during the Second Reading Debate, the organisation proposed in this Bill has greater possibilities than any of the forms of administration established for other nationalised undertakings. This is a most original proposal, and one which I think will work out more efficiently for this particular industry than would the type of organisation which was set up for the coal industry or the electricity industry. I say that because the form of federalism proposed in the Bill is one which will break down that centralisation which is the fault of large undertakings, whether publicly or privately owned, and, at the same time, it should prevent the creation of functional boards which have grave defects.
When this Bill goes forward and the gas industry is nationalised, the Gas Council itself will presumably be a planning and policy board, and the area boards will be the actual administrative units. I think it is very important that the Gas Council should act as a team, and that there should not be developed what one might call regional patriotism, because the Gas Council will be made up, in addition to the chairman and deputy-chairman, of the chairman of each of the area boards. It is very important that these chairmen shall be there as members of the Gas Council and as members of a team planning and making policy, and not merely representing the regional interests over which they govern in their capacity as chairmen of the area boards. In other words, I can see a slight danger of departmentalism, which develops in centralisation, being superseded by regionalism and local patriotism, which would be equally bad. I ask the Minister to bear that danger in mind in choosing chairmen of the area boards and in the initial advice which he gives them.
In passing I would also refer to a point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer), that is, to the salaries which are to be paid to the appointees in the hands of the Minister. I can quite understand why in the past it was found necessary to pay very high salaries to members of nationalised boards 484 —that is, in the days before the war when it was far more difficult to attract people from private enterprise to public enterprise—but the conditions which prevailed then no longer prevail today, partly because of increased taxation, partly because of the increased measure of nationalisation, and perhaps also because whole industries are now being taken over and therefore there is a far wider field from which to draw persons to serve on public boards.
I urge the Minister, for those reasons, and to set an example, to depart from the high figures of fees and expenses which were given in the case of the Coal Board and in the higher ranks of the Electricity Authority and in this respect to set out on a new model for the gas industry. There must be a sense of public service in the operation of the nationalised gas industry, and therefore those persons who are least likely to command the highest salaries are the type we are likely to require to operate the nationalised industry, and who are likely to operate it very successfully and to retain the good will of the community which the industry serves.
An excellent innovation in this Bill is the decision to appoint to the area boards the chairman of the consultative councils. The consultative councils were dealt with very ably this afternoon by the Parliamentary Secretary and they have also been touched on by other speakers. They are a definite integral part of the organisation of this nationalised industry and can contribute substantially to its success, but again I want to issue a warning that it is important that in the selection of the chairmen of these consultative councils consideration should be given to the fact that they will serve on the area boards and that when they do so they must serve on those area boards as chairmen of the consultative councils. That is to say, they must be experienced in local affairs, probably in local government, and must look after the interests of the consumers. They must be serving on the area boards as the plaintiff for the consumer and must not become the counsel for the defence of the area boards on the consultative councils.
For that reason I am still a little disappointed at the Minister's decision to retain in his own hands the appointment of these chairmen. During the Second 485 Reading Debate I suggested that they should be elected, and I see that during the Committee stage the Opposition put down an Amendment to the same effect, and, for good reasons, the Minister turned down that suggestion. It may be that some other way could have been devised by which the Minister would not be solely responsible and whereby nominations could have been made to him and he could have been assisted—he still may be assisted, I hope—in the selection of the personnel.
As to the consultative councils, I urge, as has been urged previously in this House, that they should be appointed very early in the setting up of the administrative machinery of the gas industry. The Minister gave me that undertaking during the Second Reading Debate, and I ask him to carry out that undertaking. It would be of great assistance to the operation of the industry, to the retention of the goodwill of consumers and to the more effective operation of the consultative councils if the councils were appointed at the same time as the area boards; that is to say, they should come into effect on the vesting day at the same time as the area boards. I therefore urge the Minister to set the machinery in motion at once for the setting up of the consultative councils and not to brook any delay such as there was in the case of the transport and coal industries.
There is another matter on which I would like the Minister to enlighten us when he replies. I would like him to define for us exactly what he envisages to be the rôle of the Minister in the operation of the gas industry.
§ Mr. Davies
Hon. Members would agree that in the case of industries which have already been nationalised there is some confusion and doubt as to the exact position of the Minister. We are not sure whether he is the boss to a certain extent, whether he is the representative of the community—the watchdog and guardian for the community—or exactly where his responsibility begins and ends. In this Bill the Minister's duties are clearly defined in many respects and on paper one can argue that his responsibilities are this or that, but while that applies to other Bills, what we thought, when the Bills were being debated, were responsibilities 486 which the Minister would accept, have not been accepted by him after the Bills have been enacted.
§ Mr. Davies
In this case, if we could have a clear definition before the Bill receives the Royal Assent of exactly what the Minister regards as his position, I think this confusion would be partially removed at any rate. In the case of other nationalised industries the Minister is too much of a deus ex machina; he has not got his feet on the ground and is not sufficiently willing to answer to us in this House for the responsibility he takes so often in private—because we know the contacts between the Ministers and the Boards are very close, and the responsibility they take and the influence they exercise in private are not necessarily accounted for in public, and it is this public accountability which we on this side of the House always considered was one of the great advantages of nationalisation.
This afternoon and all through these Debates a very great deal has been said concerning compensation. Hon. Members opposite all appear to think that the shareholders are being unfairly treated in the way in which their assets are being acquired and in the compensation which is being given for the assets. I think that the shareholders in the case of the gas industry are being treated not only fairly but generously. They are being generously treated because those whose shares are quoted on the Stock Exchange—I accept that it is only a small proportion—have the alternative choice of the higher prices of those shares before the Labour Government were elected or before the King's Speech announcing the nationalisation of the gas industry.
In addition to that, they are receiving further compensation where there was war damage or deterioration during the war period. In my view that is adequate compensation because those are the prices at which they could have sold their shares at any time had they wished to do so and because it is impossible to predict the future of any industry today. It is impossible to predict that shareholders in the gas industry would necessarily have continued to receive the income they had received in the past. I know that in the past it has been a safe income, that shares have been purchased on that basis, and 487 that consequently their value has been at a high level for that reason. However, with costs as high as they are today, with the necessity for improving working conditions and wages within the industry, with the uncertainty of the development of the industry in the future as regards competition between one and the other, and because of the development in the past in small units, the lack of integration, the lack of merging, failure to create a gas grid, and so on, it is impossible to say that the present income of shareholders would have been maintained in the future.
For those reasons I do not think the Government can be accused of being ungenerous in the way they have treated shareholders in gas companies. It is argued on the other side that only 5 per cent. of the stockholders have their shares quoted on the Stock Exchange, but the others are to have their shares valued on the same basis that is the equivalent of Stock Exchange values. I would point out that those people whose stock is not quoted on the Stock Exchange would, in a great number of cases, have great difficulty in disposing of their stocks if they wished to sell. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, if no market exists or if there is not a ready market in a commodity, the price is bound to be at a lower level than the price of a share which is easily marketable. Therefore, if they have been given a value on the basis of the more easily marketable stock, they are being treated fairly.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is trying to be fair but I do not think he knows that long before the war, although it was recognised that gas stocks had a very limited market, they always kept up their prices. That is why we protest about the Stock Exchange value. Although the hon. Gentleman is right in his general theory, which applies to almost anything else, gas stocks have always held their prices in a narrow market, and they are often traded in locally and not on the Stock Exchange at all.
§ Mr. Davies
If the price has always been at a high level, and they are being bought at that high level, the holders are being fairly and generously treated. There is one further point on finance—
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Before he leaves compensation, would the hon. Gentleman say that compensation paid to local authorities is also generous?
§ Mr. Davies
I was dealing with private proprietors. Local authority compensation is entirely different. There it is transfer from one public authority to another, so the question of generosity or non-generosity does not enter into it because it is simply a transfer within the State, almost book-keeping. Therefore it does not arise. On the compensation depends obviously the success of the gas industry. If the compensation were excessive, it would be far more difficult for the industry to operate successfully after nationalisation. Here, again, I am somewhat disappointed with the terms of the Bill inasmuch as the Minister has deemed it wise to keep each of the area boards as a separate financial unit. Because each area board is to be responsible for the interest payable on the stock given as compensation, the necessary earnings on which the charges of each area board will be based are governed partially by the amount of compensation which is being given out. If there is inequality between one area board and another simply by the accident of capitalisation, that inequality will be perpetuated and there will not be that equalisation of charges throughout the country which would be a good thing if it were the result of nationalisation. Each of these boards has to operate financially successfully over a period of years, and because there is only a guarantee fund created, to which the boards have to pay back anything they take out, there is no possibility of the equalisation of costs and charges throughout the country which would be an added advantage of nationalisation.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Minister on the nature of this Bill, which has been conceived with considerable skill, which shows the thought and imagination of the Minister inasmuch as it is along different lines from the other nationalisation Bills. Its structure is good. It should work out administratively successfully, and the Minister has gone further in this Bill in making provision for bringing in the consumer, the community, to participate in the nationalised 489 industry than has been done in any of the other nationalisation legislation. If this nationalised industry succeeds, it will be necessary for the consultative machinery, both on the part of the consumer councils and on the part of the workers in the industry, to be brought into effect speedily, to be developed and encouraged. If it includes the education of the community as well as of the worker in the industry, we shall have a new spirit in nationalised industry, and one which will lead to great success. Nationalisation presents a great number of problems—problems which we are seeing in the other industries as they go through their teething troubles, but I feel satisfied that many of those lessons have been learned and incorporated in this Bill, and that the success of a nationalised gas industry is assured by the nature of this Bill.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Like the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies), I was not a member of the Committee upstairs, and therefore I will not join in the contest of throwing alternatively brickbats and bouquets across the Floor on the question whether the methods adopted in Committee were justified or not. I would like to remind those who think that an exceptionally long time has been taken that we are getting back to the old days when all the Measures of Parliament took a long time, when everything was carefully analysed to see that nothing got through that should not. Sometimes in my discussions with constituents I say that I think we undertake too large a programme, that we should do better if we took longer over some of our jobs and did them better, and usually I have unanimous approval, because people would like jobs done better and not so many of them. Therefore, I suggest that we must not look upon the time taken over this Measure as exceptional, because we look forward to the day when we shall do all our jobs thoroughly.
The question of salaries has been referred to on one or two occasions by hon. Members opposite. I think we are on dangerous ground when discussing it. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) suggested that we ought to take on these heavily responsible jobs largely from a sense of public duty. That may be a very good idea, but I hope it will 490 not give him such conscientious scruples, if he is invited to take a seat on the Front Bench and is offered a considerably larger salary than the ordinary Member, as to cause him to say, "I cannot do it because I am not so much above the rest of my fellows." Today we have to pay men the market rate if we ask them to take full responsibility. We are on dangerous ground when talking of other people having high salaries when we are not offered them ourselves.
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not wish the hon. Member to misunderstand me. I tried to draw the distinction between managers and engineers, who are employees—whom I think should be paid the full rate for the job they are doing—and members of the boards.
§ Sir P. Bennett
I was trying to do the same thing—to draw a parallel between a Member of Parliament employed as an ordinary Member and one who is asked to take a seat on the Front Bench and carry the responsibility of running the nation. Before we throw stones at other people, we ought to make certain that we are not above suspicion ourselves. I am not. When I carry responsibility I do not apologise for accepting something for doing so.
Of the matters which, so far as I have heard, have not been mentioned since the Second Reading, the first to which I wish to refer is the question of research and development. The Bill states that,It shall be the duty of the Gas Council to settle from time to time in consultation with the Minister a general programme of research into matters affecting gas supply and carbonization and other matters …I spent a good deal of time between the two wars in assisting various organisations to deal with research. I am delighted, therefore, to know that the Government have put into the Bill a charge on the Gas Council to forward general research. General research is largely a question of plant; it is the sort of research which is not done by the individual producer himself. It is to some extent fundamental research of a general order for the whole industry. Fundamental research, however, means that a scientist will follow truth wherever it leads him, whether or not it has any commercial value. That is valuable as far as it goes, but it does not go the whole way. 491 Before we can get any real results from fundamental or general research, we must bring in the practical men. We have to have what we call a development department, which is quite different from fundamental research. When we call in the development staff, we shall come to the people who manufacture the article, the producers of the heavy chemical plants which are used in gas production. It then becomes a commercial business.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon said that he was in favour of nationalising monopolies but that he did not go the whole way; he did not think everything—I am speaking generally—should be nationalised. I agree with him, although I may not go as far as he does, that not everything can be nationalised. We are touching now a dangerous point, because the Bill gives to area boards power to manufacture the plant. I am trying to show that if we are to get the advantage of research, we must bring in the development departments of the people who manufacture the plant. We shall not get the best results if the manufacturer says, "Am I to place my engineers, with all my life-long experience, at the disposal of this research and then, when you have got their knowledge, and after all their hard work, you will turn it over to somebody else to manufacture the plant? I shall never get the return on my outlay." To this, the board replies, "Oh, yes, you can go on developing others; we will make just these simple straightforward ones."
I warn the Minister that it will be very dangerous if he allows a free hand to the enthusiasts who see something which they think they can manufacture—and there are enthusiasts who think they can manufacture anything and everything if they are given the power. I want him to prevent that if he can. The manufacturer who has to do the development work will be left with the difficult jobs. Either he will not do them because it will not pay him or, if he does do them, he will have to spread his overheads over a very small range of business and prices will go up enormously. I ask the Minister to bear all this in mind, to keep a very tight hand and not to let young men run away with wild ideas and do great damage to an established industry, on which we have depended in the past and will depend in the future if the gas industry is to 492 progress and take its full place in producing the essentials for the manufacturing life of the nation.
I would remind the Minister of the horrible phrase in the Bill which authorises the manufacture of gas fittings and coke fittings—except for export. We have got to export, and must live by exports. As I have said so many times before, our chance of exporting depends on getting the volume. It is no good allowing nationalised industries to pick the cream and manufacture from it, and then to expect somebody to go out and sell the surplus for export: they must have the whole lot. Our prices overseas today are so unhealthy that we cannot afford to overlook this. We are told that our orders are held up because people abroad think our prices are coming down.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
The particular phrase to which the hon. Member refers was inserted, of course, in the Electricity Bill at the request of the Opposition as an indication that it was not our intention that these boards should manufacture commercially unless they were driven to it by monopolistic activities on the part of the industries concerned.
§ Sir P. Bennett
I am aware of that. I am trying to ask the Minister to remember that there are people who get mad ideas, who say, "We have the power, let us do it." I am asking him to watch carefully that we do not interfere with the normal trade of the country, which today is being devoted laregly to exports, and with the maximum possible production. Only in that way shall we be able to hold our overseas markets. Some of them are in danger because our prices are high; we must get them down. We must not allow enthusiasts to interfere with the process of getting the maximum possible output and reducing our prices in order to keep our overseas markets.
I wish to speak also of the consultative machinery which is taking the place of co-partnership. I am entirely in favour of everything that can be done in that way, but I ask the enthusiasts not to expect too much. Co-operation between worker and management is most valuable, but the common idea prevails that manufacturers are old-fashioned and obstinate and that, unless they can produce an idea 493 themselves, they will never listen to anything which is put to them either from the works or from the outside. That simply is not true. The majority of ideas that come from outside are not new. Often people say "That idea was put to them, and they would not take it up," but they do not know that in nine cases out of 10 it is because the idea was impracticable, or not new. In my organisation in the last 25 years we have had offered to us something like 10,000 devices for anti-dazzle on the roads. When men are specialising on a job all their lives, it is likely that they know all the straightforward lines of approach and only something very exceptional will interest them.
Although people talk about manufacturers not taking up inventions when they are offered to them, I can assure hon. Members that many such inventions are not worth looking at because the ideas are known already. It is heartbreaking to have to deal with people who think that they have a marvellous invention and spend money on developing it and then find that it is no use. We have suggestion schemes, by which awards are given to workers who produce any idea which can be utilised. We have committees comprised of workers and managers to vet these ideas, and if an idea comes to them that is known already they tell the man concerned that there is nothing new in it. When they make awards, they do not give a large amount away because they are very jealous of anyone getting a return which is not justified.
These edifices can only be built a brick at a time, but I believe in this co-operation. It is valuable, not so much because of the results achieved, but because it gets workers and managers together and enables them to understand one another and to chat things over. Beyond that we should not build our hopes too high. If in the co-operative schemes we cultivate the team spirit to the maximum extent, other results will follow.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Before the Debate began I had no intention of taking part, but, having listened for a short time to the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lt.-Col. Elliot) and others, I wish to say a few words. This I hope is the last stage in this Chamber of a long and weary time 494 over this Bill. I hope that today after this Bill receives its Third Reading we shall only hear of it again when we are informed that it has received the Royal Assent.
The right hon. and gallant Member spoke about sitting up night after night in Committee and of days and weeks of Parliamentary time given to this Bill. I suggest that much time could have been saved on the Committee stage. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) gave the definition from the Oxford Dictionary for the word "filibustering." That is the meaning which we applied to the right hon. Gentleman who led the Opposition on the Committee stage of this Bill. It seems foolish of hon. Members opposite to simulate righteous indignation when we say they wasted time, because time and again when the Minister indicated that he was going to accept an Amendment four or five Opposition Members would get up to speak, and if they were not in a hurry to do so, they were egged on by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). I watched that carefully. I think it serious that so much time should have been spent in that way. One hon. Member opposite said that proper time should be allowed for analysis of such Measures. No one on this side of the House would object to that. Every Bill should have real analysis before it leaves this Chamber, but much of the time spent on this Bill was spent not in analysing it, but in making fun of it. That is much more serious than wasting time. I have spoken with many people outside who support hon. Members opposite, and when they heard about the discussion on the spelling of "nationalisation," and such things they were shocked. I believe it was the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities who gave a learned exposition on the meaning of "farce" and "comedy." In the Committe stage I felt that hon. Members opposite were making a real farce of our democratic institutions and that seemed to me to be very serious.
The right hon. and gallant Member made great play about the rights we were taking from the consumers of gas. He said that a great many people had a right to go to their elected representatives, where gas was supplied by a municipal undertaking, and make complaints. The provisions in this Bill are good; they will not only give a certain number of people 495 the right to make representations and complaints, but will give that right to every consumer of gas in the country. Far from taking rights away from anyone we are giving more rights to many more people.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Surely the hon. Lady will not deny that those rights were possessed by everyone in the City of Glasgow, or the City of Edinburgh, for example, and that they are being taken away from them?
§ Miss Herbison
I pointed out that those who had gas from municipal undertakings had the right of making complaints. Those who got gas from private undertakings, as did most of my constituents, had no avenue through which to make complaints. This Bill gives to everyone—those in Glasgow and Edinburgh and those in Lanark or where ever they are—the right and the avenue through which to make complaints. Because of that, I say that the Bill makes an improvement. The same right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the "haves" and "have nots" when dealing with co-partnership schemes. He said that during the 19th century there was a case about the "haves" and "have nots" but that in the 20th century we were beginning to reach a solution of this problem. It seems pathetic that the Opposition have to make such great play about co-partner-ship. They have held on to it and pushed it in front of us as a wonderful thing. It may have been a wonderful thing for a few people, but not sufficiently so to enable one to say that the 20th century under Tory rule made a great difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" in this country.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also spoke about the muddle of the fuel position, complaining that nationalisation of the gas industry was a bad thing. I suppose he meant the coal position. At this stage I do not want to talk about the coal position but the right hon. and gallant Member knows as well as I do in what a state the coal position was after the first world war compared with the present. Another point which I should not like to go out to the workers without contradiction is that made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead who spoke of the difficulties of collective 496 bargaining with a monopoly industry. He was suggesting that the workers in the gas industry or their representative trade unions were going to find it much more difficult to have negotiations and get results from a nationalised industry than they found in a privately owned industry. What nonsense that is. Ask the National Union of Mineworkers. What are they finding? Ask them if they are finding it more difficult to negotiate with the National Coal Board? They will quickly give an answer; so will our miners. One of our chief leaders said to me when I was at a committee meeting with him, "Here we are getting this sum without any fighting, and I can remember long months of fighting previously to get a halfpenny against the fivepence I am getting today." So our workers need not worry, they need not fear that the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead was correct when he referred to the difficulties which he said would face them in collective bargaining with a nationalised industry.
I welcome this Bill for many reasons, and I did so when I spoke on the Committee stage. This is the third Bill which will give us nationalised industries covering the whole of fuel and power in this country—coal, electricity and now gas. Coming from a mining area I have always felt that too much coal was wasted in this country. I hope that when this Bill becomes an Act and is on the Statute Book the Minister will get down to what I consider to be the most vital and important problem not only for the miners, but for everyone engaged in the mining, electrical and gas industries. I want the fullest time to be given to research in byproducts of coal whether from the carbonisation of gas or in any other way. I made it perfectly clear in the Committee stage where I stood on this matter. I want coal that is so dearly won no longer to go up merely in smoke in this country. I am saying that because I want the advantages of this research and the advantages of all uses to which coal and its by-products can be put to come—I make no apology for this—to the miners who produce the coal.
I wish to speak for a moment about the price of gas. We have been told by Members of the Opposition that this Bill will not make any difference in the price. The price of gas in my own village, which is supplied by a private company, 497 has for many years been about the highest in Scotland. I hope that after this Bill becomes an Act, one of the first things to be done by the area boards will be to see to it that there is some levelling of the price of gas so that many families will be able to use it for more of their needs than they have previously been able to do.
I was interested in the speech made by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett). I agreed with some of the things he said. He spoke about the salaries of those who were to be appointed as officials and he said that in a competitive market we had got to pay a competitive salary. I hope that the newspapers which represent the policy of hon. and right hon. Members opposite who have raised such a hue and cry throughout the length and breadth of this country about the salaries we were paying to members of the Coal Board and the "jobs for the boys" will remember the valid point made by a Member on their own side. I realise that if we are to have our nationalised industries most efficient, and we have always claimed that one of the reasons for nationalisation was to get greater efficiency, we must get the right men in charge of them. I merely wonder—and I would like the Minister to consider this point carefully—looking at the other nationalised industries, whether we have not gone just a little too far in the payment of salaries.
My final point, in giving a welcome to this Bill on its last stage in this House, is to express the hope that we from mining districts and not only we, but the whole country will find now that we have these three vital industries nationalised that there will be such co-ordination that everybody will benefit from them.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
The hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison), who made a most eloquent speech, missed the point with regard to salaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) said that he regarded the payment of adequate salaries for responsibility as a businesslike policy. What we on this side have objected to is the quality of the people chosen for the "jobs for the boys," and it is in relation to those particular appointments that we have objected to the size of the salary.
§ Miss Herbison
Taking the nine members of the Coal Board, I should be pleased if the hon. Member would point out one who got his position on the principle of "jobs for the boys" or one who is not a real expert on what he was chosen to do on the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Foster
As I remember, the criticism of the National Coal Board it was that the salaries of the members were set at a certain level, that in addition to receiving those salaries, they had a lot of allowances which were not revealed, that we did not know what these were and that some members of the Coal Board would be on their way out because of dissatisfaction with the industry. That is beginning to happen. We have the resignation of Sir Charles Reid, which leaves the position open for politics to get in.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps the hon. Member would answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend. Which members of the Coal Board is he objecting to on the grounds that they are not fit for the job?
§ Mr. Foster
It would be most improper for me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, most improper to select one person more than another. It would also be irrelevant in this discussion. Suppose I were to name X and Y; hon. Members opposite would be quite right in interrupting me and saying that the persons I named had such and such qualities in their favour, and that "We choose them carefully." We all have people in mind in the nationalised industries who are not of the quality which we would expect That is why the Minister, in this Bill, has accepted the principle of appointing people with qualifications more nearly in accordance with what they should be.
The other point mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark which I wish to take up, although only briefly, was her assertion that there was obstruction or delay upstairs She ought first to realise that a Committee upstairs was not the proper place for a Bill nationalising an important industry like this. Secondly, she should realise that the Bill was full of mistakes, and that out of about 952 Amendments no fewer than 80 were accepted on the spot and another 80 were embodied in the later stages of the Bill. A good many others were given consideration, the Minister saying that 499 they were useful. We have the authority of the Secretary of State for War for saying that nationalisation was not properly prepared and that the Socialist Party, after 50 years of leadership by the Fabian Society, was not ready for it.
§ Miss Herbison
When I was dealing with this point I gave, as an example, an Amendment having been accepted by our side, and then at least four Members of the Opposition standing up to speak to it. Was not the Debate on the spelling "s" or "z" a waste of time?
§ Mr. Foster
No doubt the spelling took a few minutes, and was perhaps a welcome interlude in what was otherwise a rather arid performance from the back benchers in the Committee. I should have thought that even Socialist Members would have had enough sense of humour to appreciate that. If they did not appreciate it, there is nothing to be said about it. With regard to the Amendments accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, he usually accepted them by saying, "This is a concession I am making to the Opposition," and he gave a little sermon with it. We had to answer the point, and say that it was not a matter of a concession, but a matter of improving the Bill. Very often he coupled his sermons with arguments which had to be refuted. It was necessary, on occasions, to say that. While we welcomed the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had seen the error of his ways and had seen that he had made a mistake in the Bill and had to correct something, we had to point out that it was yet another instance of the Bill not being properly drafted and considered.
I do not think that the hon. Member for North Lanark could deny that in many cases, the arguments of the Opposition were right, and that the Bill was improved by the labours of the Opposition. She probably knows that we had a very loyal and devoted staff who were entirely interested in the technicalities of the Bill and that we studied them—not always understanding all the technicalities—with all the assiduity with which we were capable and produced arguments which were sometimes accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. Even when they were not, they did throw a good deal of light on the intricacies of the Bill. There are still many things left wrong in the Bill. If we go 500 through it, we shall find many things about which hon. Members of the Opposition complained, and which are still unremedied. There are many places where it will be seen that the Opposition were right in proposing Amendments. In one place there is a mass of local Acts which have not been put right, and where the Minister has taken power by regulation to sort out the jumble. He has not told us the principles on which he is to do that, and he has taken very general powers.
Another reason why this Bill took a long time in Committee was because the Parliamentary Secretary was often very obstinate in his errors. He took three-quarters of an hour to be persuaded that a director was not employed by a company, a very obvious legal truth, and one which he had to accept the next day. He insisted on telling us that a director who was employed by 24 companies, and therefore was an employed guinea pig, could not be entitled to a certain amount of compensation. Of course, he had to eat his words afterwards, because it is well known that a director is not employed. Then, again, the Parliamentary Secretary was entirely wrong when the question of the disclaimer of contracts arose with regard to a special instance in Gloucester. He maintained first, that what was known as the Gloucester-Dursley project had not gone forward because of a shortage of steel. The second matter on which he was wrong about that project was when he said that it had been delayed because somebody had refused to accept an assent which was not given till three months later. Then he was wrong again with regard to the spread of the value of share quotation awards. In all these things the Parliamentary Secretary was wrong.
§ Mr. Robens
I would not like the House to think that I accept all that the hon. Member has said. I do not accept at all that I was wrong on these matters. As I said in Committee, there is some dispute between the informant of the hon. Member and my own advice, and at the moment I am still prepared to accept my own advice, and I cannot accept the remarks which the hon. Member has made.
§ Mr. Foster
It only shows that the Parliamentary Secretary is still obstinate in his errors. I have seen the correspondence, 501 and there is no doubt that the first excuse, that there was a shortage of steel did not arise in that connection. The correspondence went backward and forward and the Minister finally agreed to give the consent, and gave it. The whole consent could have been given in three minutes about two and a half months before. The Parliamentary Secretary did not hear me say, before he came in, that he was wrong with regard to a director being employed by a company.
§ Mr. Foster
I think he will admit that, maybe a little churlishly rubbing his nose about it. That delayed the proceedings of the Committee on that occasion and on that score. The Bill is still a bad Bill in spite of the efforts of the Opposition in Committee, but it is a Bill which has been improved. I do not think that an outsider, looking at the time that was spent in Committee in considering the nationalisation of this great industry, would have considered that it was excessive. It was perhaps excessive for hon. Members opposite, who were not allowed to speak by their Front Bench, and who, probably, had useful contributions to make, but were not allowed to make them. It was also excessive for hon. Members opposite who had to sit there, in order to form a quorum of 20 for the Closure, when certain technical matters were being discussed which were interesting in themselves, but not of general interest, and it was, therefore, only the experts who were left to consider these matters.
Why is it a bad Bill besides that? It is a bad Bill because the object of nationalisation, as avowed by hon. Members opposite in this case, namely, the assurance of efficiency in the industry, will not be achieved by this Bill. It has a top-heavy structure, in spite of the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman at decentralisation. It is a bad Bill, also, because of the defects which are inherent in nationalisation. I am not prepared to canvass them now in this case. They have very often been pointed out by hon. Members on this side of the House. I think it is a matter for regret that at this late stage in our economic crisis, the Socialist Party have selected for nationalisation an industry which is working well, where the workers are contented, and which is efficient.
502 The yardstick adopted in this Bill for compensation is the yardstick of Stock Exchange quotations. The reason Stock Exchange quotations are not suitable is that they apply only to 5 per cent. of the securities of the gas undertakings. Another reason is that the 1945 dates which are taken are not fair, because the Clause as to war damage does not provide for many companies which have suffered war damage to be compensated for that. The 1947 values are not fair because already the threat of nationalisation was hanging over them. For these reasons, we say that the compensation to the owners of securities is not fair.
Compensation to municipal undertakings is not fair, because it takes each undertaking at an entirely different value. Attempts have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that this is a matter merely of transferring undertakings from one section of the community to another section. I assume that they would acknowledge that if it was a transference from one private owner to another private owner it would be most unfair. Their argument is that this is merely one section of the community handing over property to another. That is not so. We have individual communities. This is not a case of the community at large. We have one municipal undertaking which will get no compensation at all because it has no outstanding loans. I refer to Evesham. We have another undertaking which will get £1,155 per million cubic feet sold. That is an enormous range of difference. In between that, we have all possible ranges of compensation, with Aberdeen at £73 and Leicester at £230. That is obviously unjust.
The main argument of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury against that—it is hardly believable—was that if this was so unpopular and unfair it would never have been recommended by the Socialist Party before they went back to face their electors at the next General Election. Therefore, it could not be unfair. That is not much of an argument. When the Financial Secretary speaks, one cannot but be reminded of the law case in which counsel addressing the jury said, "My client talks like an idiot; my client looks like an idiot; but do not be deceived, members of the jury, because he is an idiot." The Socialist Party must find a better argument than that for defending 503 this method of compensation. One cannot but think that at the next General Election the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary will be proved wrong on that score. The Bill should have provided that fair compensation would be paid.
When the Socialist Party were making out their programme, it was one of the promises held out to the electors that fair compensation would be paid. One cannot find in this Bill, or in any other of the Nationalisation Acts, proof that proper compensation is paid. For these reasons, I say that this Bill is ill-conceived. If one cares to counter-prophesy to the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark, who spoke about the price of gas, I think that one can safely say that within the next two years inevitably the price of gas will rise. While certain levelling out may be done by the Minister, the general average level will rise. Just as is the case with all other commodities which have been nationalised, we shall find that the cost will increase. Therefore, I urge the House to reject this Bill and not to give it a Third Reading.
§ Mr. Robens
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, as I would not like to misinterpret anything he said, may I ask him whether, when he gave us the little anecdote about the man talking like an idiot, looking like an idiot and, in fact, being an idiot, he was referrng personally to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, or applying that to the argument which he used? I would not like to misinterpret him. If he was referring to the Financial Secretary, it seems to me that the remark was fairly offensive.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Porter (Warrington)
Before coming to this House, I often looked with envy upon those people who had had the privilege of a university education. Like many others on this side of the House, I had the privilege only of an elementary education. Rightly or wrongly, along with a former Member of this House, Mr. J. R. Clynes, I was always against what are commonly called restrictive practices. Every Member of the Opposition who served on Standing 504 Committee D, with the exception of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), had had a university education, and they used to the full what we in the trade union movement commonly call restrictive practices. If it had been possible to bring from the workshop a number of shop stewards to see the way in which the Opposition conducted themselves, I am afraid that instead of having an improved rate of production, such as is taking place now, production would have deteriorated—
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that there was a restrictive practice involved among Government supporters who are not allowed to speak in the Standing Committee?
§ Mr. Porter
I take the example of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). The Chairman of the Standing Committee on one occasion ruled out of Order five Amendments, but the hon. Member, by skilled legal practice, spoke for an hour and 20 minutes and referred to every one of the five Amendments. He was encouraged in that by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). That was not an isolated occasion. That type of thing took place during each of the 36 sittings of the Standing Committee.
§ Mr. J. Foster
Does the hon. Member realise that the reason why the Amendments were ruled out of Order was probably because they were more susceptible to discussion on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and that I was not ruled out of Order for a single second during the whole of that speech?
§ Mr. Porter
The hon. Member was politely told that if he referred to them he would be out of Order but, in spite of that, he took a mean advantage of the Chairman. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) in his remarks today, and in similar remarks which he made in the Standing Committee, referred to a statement by the Lord President of the Council that those who believed in nationalisation had to prove their case. I said in Committee, and I repeat now, that in every one of our Dominions—in almost every country abroad—not recently, but during the last 50 years, all kinds of industries 505 have been nationalised. In only one industry has it been a failure and that is in shipping in Australia. I hope that no Member of the Opposition will try to defend what took place there. The Labour Government introduced nationalisation of shipping into that Dominion and immediately began to pay decent wages. The Opposition took objection to that and managed to get into power at the next general election. They sold the concern. When the Labour Government came back they had to clear up the mess.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
The hon. Member may be forgetting that a number of other nations also tried the experiment of State operation of shipping and that every one of them failed. We do not want to go into those details now, as they might be outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Porter
I want to give an opportunity to the other side to prove where nationalisation has failed. I have a list of the industries which have been nationalised in other parts of the Empire. It includes shipping, hotel services, passenger transport, coal mines and electricity. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) made a speech in one of the rooms upstairs in 1928, when he was Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and had been out in Nigeria. He said to the meeting:There they have nationalised railways; they are State railways, and, what is more, they draw their coal from State mines, State-owned collieries. The State railway goes to the State mine and coal is taken out by the State miner and sold to the State railways at a price, fixed not by the higgling of the market, but by the costing sections of the State coalmining department and of the railway department; the State railway hauls the coal down to the State port, loads it into State-owned ships … the land in Nigeria is communally owned.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Surely the hon. Member forgot to finish that quotation and to tell the House that the wages of the miners who cut that coal were 7s. 6d. a week.
§ Mr. Porter
Anybody who knows the history of that part of the world and knows what private enterprise had paid will understand; but let us get back to the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
This is the hon. Member's own idea. He dragged in this subject, not I. I must also remind him that there never was any private coal-mining in Nigeria. It was always done by State enterprise. I regret to state that the wages of the miners in Nigeria were such as would not have been paid by private enterprise in this country.
§ Mr. Porter
I will not pursue this subject, except to add that the wages paid in the State mines in Nigeria and on the railway system, low as they were, were considerably higher than those paid by private enterprise in other industries in Nigeria.
§ Mr. Porter
That applies today. I want to make a point to which I have referred upon a previous occasion. In the Southern part of England there is a gentleman named Mr. Bennett who is chairman of 30 gas companies. The United Kingdom Gas Corporation, Ltd., is controlled by a gentleman named Colonel Carr. It controls no fewer than 74 gas companies in this country. I want to ask the Opposition whether they think it is too big a step to transfer huge combines of that description from their present boards of directors direct to the State, and to nationalise them?
A further point is in reference to a speech made by an hon. Member for one of the Birmingham Divisions, when he was appealing to the Minister not to allow anyone in the nationalised gas industry to produce for the industry machinery such as was already being made by firms specialising in its manufacture. Mr. Bennett is no doubt fully aware of two very simple, yet important, incidents that took place in the gas industry. The first was when tenders were invited by a local authority from firms producing gas machinery, and every firm who applied to supply that machinery quoted the same estimate. The other incident was when the Birmingham City Council protested that they were being fleeced by some of those firms and tried to seek powers from this House to produce the machinery for themselves.
507 In the electricity industry I understand that there are only five firms prepared to tender to supply machinery for electricity undertakings. This position affected the Co-operative movement with the result that the movement has been compelled to establish 54 separate industries of its own. Local authorities, such as Birmingham, have had to do their own maintenance in order to protect their rates. Within 14 miles of Manchester Town Hall are 50 separate gas undertakings with 50 gas engineers. Do Members of the Opposition believe in such a ridiculous system? If they do not, what steps have they taken to put an end to such a wasteful state of affairs. For many years it was my lot to look after the welfare of men who worked in the gas industry especially in the North-west of England. I know that the workmen employed by gas employers, both private and municipal, had a terrible job to obtain decent wages.
So far, no gas company in this country has produced protective clothing for its workers, many of whom have one of the most filthy jobs it is possible to find. Partly because of that, and also because of our experience of local authority gas committees, I am pleased that tonight this Labour Government will secure the Third Reading of this Bill. It will not only benefit the workers in the gas industry, but it will ensure that those who use gas for industrial or ordinary domestic purposes will be able to receive a much better and cheaper supply when we get over our teething troubles, and it will be as successful as any of the nationalised industries in various parts of the world.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter) in the speech he has just made, except to say that it seems very extraordinary that we should have to nationalise an industry like the efficient gas industry because a certain gas company does not supply its workers with industrial clothing. I should have thought that that defect could have been remedied without going to the trouble of nationalising the gas industry. I listened very carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison). I am sorry she is not in her place at the moment. She always speaks with great sincerity and one cannot help 508 feeling that what she says she really means. However, I always get the feeling that she is thinking of difficulties which existed many years ago, that she is obsessed with those difficulties and that therefore she is prepared to try out an experiment such as the nationalisation of gas, electricity or coal.
The Parliamentary Secretary, speaking with his customary lucidity, emphasised the value of consultative councils. In the Electricity Act similar councils are mentioned. Ten months have passed since the introduction of that Measure, two months have passed since the vesting date, and yet no consultative council has been appointed under the provisions of that Act. How long must we wait for the appointment of these consultative councils with which the Parliamentary Secretary made such great play in support of the nationalisation of this industry?
The Parliamentary Secretary said, quite properly, that this is a great experiment. We had a great experiment in the nationalisation of the coal industry. It seems that if we cannot prove that nationalisation is a complete failure, it is assumed to be a complete success. While I cannot go into the matter in detail, because I should be out of Order in doing so, I contend that it is up to the Government to prove that the nationalised coal industry is a success. So far as I can gather, the nationalised coal industry is far from successful. If "success" means that we are losing millions of pounds in a nationalised industry, and that the men employed in the industry are not satisfied with the build-up of the organisation under the Coal Board, then perhaps it can be said to be a success. The hon. Member for Lanark asked one of my hon. Friends to mention a member of the Coal Board who was not capable of doing his job. My reply to such a question would be to ask the Minister to deny that he has appointed to the Coal Board men with substantial salaries who have never had anything to do with the coalmining industry. That would be a very proper question, and I hope the Minister will answer it.
I shall oppose the Third Reading of this Bill for one most important reason, which I do not think has been mentioned, namely, that the introduction of a Bill to nationalise the gas industry at this 509 time is very badly timed on account of this country's economic position. We are fighting for our very lives in production all over the country. Ministers are going into the country making speeches and are telling the workers that if it were not for American assistance, we would not be able to maintain our standard of life, that we would not be able to have an adequate supply of raw materials to keep our factories going, that we would have unemployment and that our standard of life would be very much reduced. If Ministers mean what they say—that we are fighting for our lives in the economic sense—and they introduce this Bill at this moment when we are in economic distress, then I say it does not make sense.
There is a great deal wrong with this Bill. The word "compensation" appears in it, and it has been used wrongly. I should have thought that to pay compensation to somebody from whom property has been taken would mean payment somewhere equivalent to the value of that property. By this Bill local authorities' undertakings with millions of pounds' worth of assets are being taken over, and the Government propose to pay to the extent of the outstanding loans. Surely the Minister could not expect to avoid paying the outstanding loans. Surely he does not expect to take these undertakings for nothing. However, the outstanding loans are no measure of the compensation due to a local authority if one considers the extent of the assets which are taken over. In some cases millions of pounds' worth of assets are being taken over; the Minister is familiar with all the undertakings, so I will not weary him with the figures, but all over the country there are many instances of local authorities' undertakings which are being taken over, and in some cases not as much as 5 per cent. of the value of those assets is being paid in compensation. If that is what the Government call compensation, I say it is almost highway robbery—and I do not say that personally to the Minister.
Take the case of the stockholder in the gas industry. He is having an arrangement through this Bill to ascertain his compensation—quotations are taken at one date, and again at another date, and the average is struck without any regard to the particular circumstances which 510 govern the quotations in the Stock Exchange List. There are a thousand and one different circumstances. In this connection I would say that it is part of my job to value shares from time to time, and I can tell the Minister that in order to get the right valuation of any particular share, many circumstances have to be taken into account besides the Stock Exchange quotations. One has to consider questions of marketability, efficiency, reserves and a thousand and one other things in order to arrive at a proper value of any particular stock.
If we consider the compensation offered to the stockholder, he is not being given any value at all in relation to the true value of the assets or the true value of the particular stock which is being taken over. For that reason I say that stockholders are getting a raw deal, and for that I blame the Government, because I know perfectly well that they tried in Committee to support this compensation figure. So far as I am concerned, they have always been a very long way from convincing me that the meaning they tend to put on the word "compensation" is anything like the true meaning which this country gives to the word. I believe the Bill is bad in that respect.
Why are we getting this Bill today? We are getting it today because the Government—and I charge nobody personally and make no accusations against any hon. Member—are definitely putting party before country, even with the economic situation as we see it today. There can be no other reason for it. Here is an efficient industry, working well; it has given satisfaction to many of its employees and it has co-partnership. I have heard co-partnership ridiculed from the other side of the House, but let me assure hon. Members opposite that co-partner-ship is a very fine thing in industry and I would like to see it developed in more industries. As I say, at a time when we should be conserving all our resources, drawing in every, section of the community to pull its weight in the national effort, we have a purely party programme being rushed through the House. It has been said from the other side that in Committee there was delay and obstruction.
§ Mr. Palmer
Does the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) suggest that we 511 should get more national unity if we adopted a purely Conservative policy?
§ Mr. Jennings
If we operated a commonsense policy at the present time, we should get unity in the country. I will go this far; we should get a good deal more unity in the country than we shall get under the present system. In any case, that is not in the Gas Bill and I cannot carry the point further. I feel that this industry is being tinkered with. We are to have all sorts of area boards; we are to have the transference of property, the transference of assets; we are to have upheaval brought about in the industry. I do not hesitate to say that this Bill will not give us one cubic foot of gas more in the next 12 months—it cannot possibly do so. Why bring in the Bill now? The answer is that it is brought in purely because of party politics.
I turn to another major issue. The hon. Member for North Lanark suggested that we should get cheaper gas. I believe she honestly thinks we shall get cheaper gas. I am one of those who believe that the less a Government has to do with an industry, the better for that industry, and I do not hesitate to say that this Bill will bring dearer gas for consumers, both domestic and industrial. The build-up is top-heavy. We shall have delay and lack of decision; we shall have an industry tinkered with and, in the end, we shall be pushed further down the slippery slope of economic disaster.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I have often wondered whether there was anybody who believed everything he read in the Tory Press. I wonder no longer, for the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) demonstrated that he not only believes it all, but also remembers it all.
§ Mr. Collins
There were some remarks he made with regard to coal, for example. I think there is one thing on which almost everyone in this country is agreed, and that is that we should not have had the increase in coal output if the industry had not been nationalised, and if we had not had that increase we should have been sunk by now in irretrievable disaster. I think that is the only criterion we can use at this moment whether the policy of 512 nationalising coal has been a success or not. We have not yet had anything like the time that is necessary to develop the industry, and it is quite idle to pretend that in a short space of 15 to 16 months we could put right the evils of the 50 years that have gone before.
§ Mr. Jennings
I thank the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) for permitting me to intervene. Would he not agree that we are selling as coal today, and calling it output, stones, dirt and rubbish that we never produced before the war?
§ Mr. Collins
That interruption is far more irrelevant than the stones and rubbish the hon. Member was speaking about.
§ Mr. Collins
The hon. Member for Hallam thinks it would be necessary absolutely to prove that coal nationalisation was a success, and that everybody agreed it was perfect, before we could even contemplate nationalising the gas industry. He also thinks it is essential for everybody, even in the higher administrative positions, to have had long experience—he said "life-long experience," I think—in the particular industry. It is extraordinary that he did not demand that same standard of technical skill and excellence in all the directors of private companies. Of course, he applies a different measure when we come to anything run by the Government.
In my opinion, in the course of this Bill there has been a great deal too much verbal gas, and perhaps it would be useful now if we turned our consideration rather more to the coal variety. I made one visit to the Committee upstairs and it seemed to me at that time that hon. Members of the Opposition were concerned not so much with careful analysis as with devoting themselves to complete paralysis.
§ Mr. Collins
That is quite true. There are two vital matters in this Bill to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, and indeed he referred to them as the most important matters—the question of industrial democracy which is dealt with in Clause 56, and the question of the consultative councils. I entirely agree with 513 him. Whatever one may feel about the industry, I do not think there can be any difference of opinion at all that integration was necessary. There can be difference of opinion only on the questions of ownership and the particular administration which is most desirable.
I believe that the administration to be provided by this Bill is likely to prove the best set-up we shall have had so far in a nationalised industry. So far, the electricity area boards which have been set up and which are functioning are doing excellent work, as I know; and if the Minister is as fortunate in his choice of members for the gas boards as he has been in the choice of members of the electricity boards, we shall have reason to be very pleased indeed. Of course, as the hon. Member said, this Bill will not produce gas, and it will not produce gas more efficiently. It will merely provide the framework which will allow an efficient industry to be built up. An efficient industry cannot be built up unless Clause 56 is implemented to the uttermost by all concerned, and implemented intelligently, so that every man in the industry is able to make his contribution to it.
There must be real consultation. There is so much lip service paid to this principle in all parts of the House, particularly on the Opposition benches; but there is very little real conviction. I have practised this form of industrial democracy throughout my working life, and I know its value and its difficulties. One cannot just set up a works council or a joint production council and expect it to work on good intentions. It has to be followed through painfully on both sides. It can be carried through successfully only if on both sides there are people who believe in it and who are determined to make it work. Month after month I sat on such a council, and many a time I felt that it was no good, and that I must throw it up. But one goes on; and, gradually, one finds that there is an infinitely better understanding growing up between the two sides of the council. Therefore, I do urge my hon. Friend to keep this principle absolutely in the forefront of his mind. I do urge him also to divorce from his mind something I fear he has in mind. If I heard him aright, he said administration must not 514 be impatient with the workers. I agree. However, he is wrong if he thinks that the industry can be efficient so long as administration and workers are regarded as two separate entities. They must become merged, so that all can play their part, working together in one organisation, and so that the contribution the top executive has to make is in essence no more important than that of a man in a gas factory or in the inspectorate.
Until from the top to the bottom, from the area boards down to the gas factories, it has been possible for my right hon. Friend to induce the setting up of machinery which will enable all workers in the industry at all levels to make their contribution, and to feel that that contribution is wanted, to feel that it is valued—until then we shall not have a really satisfactory gas industry. We talk today about high powered executives, about the need for great improvements in administrative technique. Those improvements are needed. No matter how high powered the executive is, however, he cannot do his job and cannot be really proficient unless the people below him will him to be and want him to be. Therefore, the application of Clause 56 is a really vital matter. I do hope that, at last, in a nationalised industry from the word "Go" we shall have this provision implemented to the full, and that in all the trade unions connected with this industry there will be the conviction—which does not exist fully at present—that it is their business. Much has been said about incentives. This is the greatest incentive of all. It is a far greater incentive than the mere money incentive, assuming, of course, that wages and hours and other material conditions are good. But the most vital thing is to give our workers something they have never had before in industry—the feeling that they belong to it and that it belongs to them. If this Bill is properly implemented that is what they will feel.
Now I come to the question of co-partnership. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) said that if we went into a bus today and heard the gas workers talking we should learn how worried they are about the Bill and about the position of co-partnerships. I have not heard them talking in a bus, but last Friday night in my division I accepted an invitation to speak to all the gas 515 workers there about co-partnerships, and pensions and what not under the Bill. After having spent almost two days and nights here listening to the Debates I think I almost earned the title, applied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) to the Parliamentary Secretary, of a "carbonised Casabianca." However, such is devotion to duty that I did speak to them on this subject.
They had a co-partnership scheme there. I examined it. In my submission, it was one of the most iniquitous documents it has ever been my misfortune to read. Co-partnership? There was not the tiniest evidence of partnership in it whatsoever. It consisted of this. First of all, a bonus scheme tied to the price of gas—3 per cent. on a man's wages, with a slightly higher scale if the price went down. When that dividend on his wages was earned it was placed in an account. When a certain amount had been earned it was transferred to stock at the direction of the directors. He was allowed to draw it out only with the permission of the directors if he had been a good boy. The document almost used those words. After having got some stock he was allowed to accumulate a certain amount of funds at interest. There again, it was not possible to draw it out in all circumstances. If he died, his widow or other dependants were not assured of getting the stock or the money, because it was possible for a charge of fraud or embezzlement to be brought against him after death, and if the directors said that was proved, the money was not paid. There was no appeal.
§ Mr. Jennings
Would the hon. Member not feel it right, in justice to this scheme, to tell us exactly what scheme he is discussing? It is a very unfair thing to run a co-partnership scheme down without giving us an opportunity of examining it. Will he tell us which scheme it is?
§ Mr. Collins
The Taunton Gas Company. I read the scheme only last week. I have not got it in my pocket, but I 516 have quoted it almost word for word. All those features are there.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
If this scheme is so undesirable, so unattractive, and if the men taking part in it stand to gain nothing from it, why did they take part in it voluntarily?
§ Mr. Collins
If the hon. and gallant Member had only understood what employment conditions were like in 1923 when the scheme started, and afterwards, he would know.
§ Major Beamish
Was it a voluntary scheme or not? Was it a compulsory scheme? I know all about Tory misrule and all the rest of it, but was this a voluntary or a compulsory scheme?
§ Mr. Collins
I believe everybody had to participate in it, but it was so hedged about by restrictions, and dominated by one person—I understand he is no longer connected with the company—it was impossible to call it voluntary in the real sense of the term.
§ Mr. Collins
We always speak the truth from these benches.
Naturally, I was somewhat diffident in discussing this particular scheme in front of its members. I allowed myself to explain that under this Bill co-partnership would be allowed to go on for a time, then it would be a matter for consultation between the employees' representatives and the area boards, and after that the Minister would make certain regulations. He would either amend the schemes or bring them to an end, but their position would not be worsened. I said that I hoped that certain features which I regarded as unsatisfactory in these co-partnership schemes would be altered, and everyone laughed and knew precisely 517 what I was talking about. Their view about it appeared to be much the same as mine. I agree that they had something of value in the scheme, in that it had the intrinsic value of an addition to their wages, but in no sense of the word was it co-partnership. Co-partnership is something which shares in far more than money. If we are to have co-partnership, let us have it in reality. I believe that under nationalisation there can be co-part nership in an infinitely greater degree than under private companies.
On the vital question of consultative councils, I think that they are of great importance, and I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) who said he thought it was wrong for the Minister to retain the power to appoint the chairman. I think the Minister should retain that power, but the vital thing is that he or she—whoever is appointed chairman of the consultative council—must be a very special person of remarkable personality, who is known in the particular area, who is respected, and who has the confidence of the consumers, and, if possible, a person who is not connected or strongly connected with any political party or anything of that kind, because so much depends on the chairman of the Consultative Council in order to make it a really live thing.
In my view, the Bill provides the best framework of any industry that has yet been nationalised. I believe that if the real principles of industrial democracy are followed, such as are provided in the Bill, it can be made a model, and if the consumers' interests are protected by really live and effective consultative councils, in a year or two there will be no question about its success. It will be a success which will not merely be measured in terms of lower charges for gas, but measured in terms of a far more widespread body of consumers, particularly in the rural areas, who have never been properly provided for, served by a body of efficient, well-satisfied and happy employees going forward in a really efficient industry which will make a major contribution to the prosperity of this country.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I venture to think that the matter under discussion is not the 518 imperfections of the Taunton co-partnership scheme and not the way the Opposition behaved in Committee. We are not even talking about how the Minister should use his powers. What we are talking about is whether we should or should not give a Third Reading to this Bill. As I understand it, on the Second Reading the House said, "Yes, we like the principle of the Bill, and we will send it to a Committee." In Committee, Amendments are made. The Bill comes back and on the Third Reading we say, "Yes, we like it as amended"—or if we do not, we turn it down. That is the theory of the Constitution.
We know very well that under the rigid party system under which we live, a Third Reading is a sort of rearguard action on the part of the opponents of the Bill. It may be well to start by getting out of the way the rhetorical question put to hon. Members on this side by one of the Members of the Liberal Party, who asked whether, if we come into power, we will unscramble the omelette. That shows the fogginess of the Liberal mind. The hon. Member apparently thought that if the answer to that question was in the negative, it would be fatal to our cause. On the contrary, let us assume that this Bill, if it is carried is irrevocable and could never be remedied. That is all the stronger reason for not passing it, unless we are pretty certain that some good will be done. If I saw a man walking in a certain direction who might stumble if he went on, it would not much matter whether I cautioned him or not, but if he was going to walk over a precipice, it would matter very much indeed.
Have any arguments been advanced in real* in support of this Bill, apart from its administration? Yes, they were advanced very clearly, I think, by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter). I may think that a man's arguments in favour of a Bill are bad, but at least, if he has some arguments, that is a merit. I shall show later that the Minister appeared to have none. The hon. Member for Warrington was good enough to say that this Bill provided better working conditions, better wages and, for the public, lower charges for gas, and he also had a bright vision that after this Bill became law, we would probably only have to nationalise shipping as well in order to rise to the economic 519 level of Nigeria. That is the put before us.
The Parliamentary Secretary, curiously enough, put forward no arguments on the principle of the Bill. What he said was that the Bill is innocuous, which translated into Anglo-Saxon means that it is not likely to do any harm. A more tepid commendation of a major change it would be hard to find. He suggested that, on top of that, it would produce integration and co-ordination. Integration, I think, means that I knock a lot of things into one, and co-ordination means that I make things which are separate, work together. I find it difficult to see how one Measure can do both. Moreover, I am not impressed by the use of grand words of that kind, because they very often cover up a complete falsity of ideas.
I was impressed by something else which the Parliamentary Secretary said. He gave a little moral lecture in a few words: that the workers will have to learn that there is no bottomless purse out of which wages can be paid. He soon had his answer as to how far that kind of lecture is going. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart) gave it. His grievance was that for many years we had been having district settlements for gas wages and gas wages had not been the same all over the country. If he thinks that unity is a merit, it is not at all unfair to assume that he means unity upwards; he would not, I presume, bring down the top level, or meet in the middle: he wants a rise in wages. A similar attitude was taken by the hon. Member for Warrington and by the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison). In other words, the Minister need not delude himself that he can get away by lecturing the workers. When there is one unified body, as the hon. Member for Lanark told us, it is more easy to squeeze. That may be a very good thing in itself, but precisely where is the cheaper gas coming from, and from what source will the money for all the capital improvements come? Partly from the terms of compensation. I notice that when the word "compensation" is mentioned there tend to be derisory sniggers from the benches opposite. To me there is nothing funny about it. I never see anything humorous in lack of honesty. To be a "smart aleck" at the expense of shareholders 520 fails to amuse me. Nor am I particularly impressed when I am told that the appropriation, on a certain basis, of the assets of local authorities is a mere book entry.
One argument advanced by the Minister was that this Bill is part of a mandate given at the General Election in 1945. It is very strange to observe what obsequiousness is sometimes shown, but not always, to the opinions of the electorate. On occasion I have heard it said that Gallup Polls are to be avoided like the plague, and hon. Members who take the opinions of their constituents on vital topics are shouted at from the Benches opposite; but when it happens to suit the Government, their apparently overwhelming victory in 1945 must determine everything. Let me draw attention to another election which took place about four months afterwards, when people were exhorted at the city council and town council elections to "Vote Labour and finish the job." They did so, overwhelmingly. But what happened consequent thereon in Birmingham, which has a very large gas undertaking? In 1946, before the Government policy was declared, I endeavoured to get the Birmingham Gas Committee to investigate finances, and to try to secure that they got terms as favourable as those obtained by private companies. The city council being Socialist-controlled, my proposal was voted down, and the Gas Committee were not allowed to make that investigation. The citizens of Birmingham, having since woken up to what is happening, do not appear to like it. They were so disrespectful as to clout the Socialists very hard indeed last November. I suppose I should take no account of that, but I shall.
I am told by the hon. Member for Lanark that in her area, gas charges are very excessive, and that there should be unity. Well, we are working not nationally but in areas, and what will no doubt happen is that charges will be unified, and in some areas the price will go up. I have no doubt that in Glasgow it will go up. That unity is being achieved at the expense of the ratepayers of those towns where finances have been carefully conducted, where vision has been shown and public utilities properly run. The citizens of those towns are to be penalised in order that those areas which are within the control of companies may be subsidised a little. A 521 scheme which can work only by subsidisation in that way, and by taking over local authority assets at half or less than half their value, is rotten financially. Its weakness may be disguised for some years by the mere fact that the assets have been taken over at low value.
What reason have we for thinking that the set-up we are now to have will really produce better results than those obtained, say, by Glasgow, Birmingham or the Gas Light and Coke Company? It is perfectly true that up and down the country there are various small undertakings; but note what happens when any attempt is made to rationalise them. Hon. Members on the Government benches apparently think it is a very wicked thing that one man should be the chairman of 74 companies. Why is that? If it is a good thing to co-ordinate some undertakings, if it is a good thing to have a Coal Board, or to have area gas boards with one chairman at the head of them all, what is very wrong or wicked in one man being chairman of 74 gas companies?
Hon. Members opposite must make up their minds. Do they or do they not want unity? Of course, the task of making up one's mind is very much simplified if one does not trouble to think, but merely works on party prejudice. If hon. Members stop to think, they have to decide whether they want unity or not. If they do, why is the unity obtained by private enterprise a very bad thing? At the back of everything there is this consideration. We all know the old saying—I think I state it correctly—that Socialism means the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange.
§ Mr. Roberts
I certainly shall not go over there merely' because I can correctly state the objective of hon. Members opposite. To say that I understand what they want, does not mean that I think it is a good thing, Indeed, before they invite a doubtful proselyte like myself to join them, they had far better deal with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) who, this afternoon, said that he was not in favour of indiscriminate nationalisation. Although he is, therefore, a disloyal member of his party, he got much applause from some of his hon. 522 Friends. Let the Government think whether they had not better start a heresy hunt among their own members who are beginning to see the dangers, traps and pitfalls. Having established by agreement that, as this is a Socialist Government, that is the programme they are bound to pursue, we can see the real driving force, and why this Bill must be pursued regardless of any particular argument on merits.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Member eulogised the efficiency of his own city's gas undertaking, that of Birmingham, and I accept that as a true statement of fact. Would he tell the House why it is that Mr. Pearson, the engineer-in-chief of the Birmingham Gas Department—to whom obviously a good deal of that efficiency is due—came out so wholeheartedly in favour of nationalisation?
§ Mr. Roberts
In the first place, I referred to the efficiency of the Birmingham Gas Department and also of the Gas Light and Coke Company in the same sentence. The Parliamentary Secretary should quote the whole of the sentence and not use just part of it. The fact that Mr. Pearson is a very efficient engineer does not necessarily mean that his views on nationalisation are correct. [Laughter.] I suppose I may be allowed' to continue what I was saying, although it is naturally very unpopular to hon. Members opposite, as it is meant to be. The efficiency of the Birmingham Gas Department did not begin with Mr. Pearson or depend wholly on his exertion; nor does it depend on his views on nationalisation. Is there any reason why the chief engineer of a business should be able to judge the wisdom or otherwise of nationalisation? The Parliamentary Secretary should resist the temptation to make smart little debating points.
Members opposite are pursuing this course for no specific reasons, but as part of their preconceived Socialist programme. I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that, in spite of his views on the improbable event of my party obtaining a majority, that does not alter the fact that under a democratic system we have the right and duty to state our opposition. It means that the minority having stated their opposition and having recorded their vote in the 523 Lobby, are then exempt from all responsibility for this Bill when the public find they are faced with a more rigid service and have the pleasure of paying higher charges.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
It was certainly a very illuminating experience to be in the Committee which considered this Bill. The Opposition put up a very creditable performance, and were breezily led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who enlivened the proceedings considerably, notwithstanding the fact that he added a new gas area without consulting the Committee. We have to face the fact that from the practical point of view the Opposition were lamentably deficient in their knowledge of the industry, although from the financial point of view they knew everything. If Norman Yardley can only stonewall as effectively as the Opposition did in the Committee, we shall have a chance against the Australians. We had two fine Ministers in the Committee, and one of the finest Chairmen it has been my lot to meet presiding over the Committee. He had everything except clairvoyance. I rather regret that, because although his sense of anticipation was magnificent he failed to foresee all the tricks of the Tory Opposition. They had 24 kicks at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), 17 kicks at the Minister of War, 14 kicks at the Lord President of the Council and eight kicks at the Minister of Food, and I do not know what any of those four gentlemen have to do with the Gas Bill.
I welcome this Measure because it is a good Bill. Hon. Members opposite have said that the coal industry is going to have an effect, but the coal industry always has had an effect. The Opposition have complained about the compensation which is to be given to the local authorities. When I speak of Scotland, I have in mind Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, which produce the highest percentage of gas in the country and are the only undertakings which are worth while. Privately-owned gas companies in Scotland are in a very bad state of repair. They are like Tim Darling's gun, tied up with string, and Members 524 opposite are only talking with their tongues in their cheeks when they speak of compensation, because those who own private enterprise companies are only too glad to get rid of them at any price. It is essential to our national economy that this industry, which is the subsidiary to our coal industry, should be taken over.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest and Christchurch)
The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde) has voiced a complaint which has been made by many Members opposite, that during the Committee stage there was a certain amount of obstruction by the Opposition. Some Members have said that there was a great deal of obstruction, and some have said that the obstruction was only slight. The fact is that there has never been a Bill which has had so many Amendments accepted in Committee by the Government. We can see the truth of that when I say that 160 Amendments were accepted by the Government, either directly on the Committee stage or subsequently on the Report stage, and that does not take into account the many instances when the Government spokesman gave assurances to look into matters again.
§ Mr. Robens
It would be quite untrue to suggest that there have been more Amendments made to this Bill than any other. There were, in fact, more Amendments made on the Electricity Measure.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I quite agree—as the result of the Amendments made in another place; but we have not got as far as that yet. I have no doubt that when this Bill comes from another place we shall be able to increase our score very greatly.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) and the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) said that private enterprise would be only too glad to get rid of gas undertakings, that whether Stock Exchange values were fair or not, private enterprise would accept them. I do not know why they should make that statement, because there has never been one company or one investor who has said that they would be satisfied with the present terms. When Members 525 opposite say that sort of thing it is a complete travesty of the truth. At this late hour I think we need only go back to what the Lord President of the Council said on the Second Reading of this Bill. Interrupting my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes), he said:I did say—and I stick to it—that it is up to the nationalisers to prove the public advantage of nationalisation, and that it is up to the anti-nationalisers to prove, either that it is better to leave things alone, or that they have alternative proposals on the basis of private ownership which would be as beneficial as, or more beneficial than, socialisalion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 461.]I have listened to practically every speech made by hon. Members opposite in this Debate, and not one has tried to justify this Bill in terms of the national advantage. The national advantage must mean three very simple things; it must mean that benefit to the consumer, to the worker in industry, and to the nation as a whole must be proved. Unless this can be done then the nationalisers have not proved their case.
Take the consumer. At the moment, he is guarded rigidly by Parliament. He knows that the price of his gas cannot be increased, and that statutory limitations are placed on the amount of money that may be paid to shareholders. He knows that whether there is a sliding or basic scale that is the position, that he is rigidly governed by this House, and that he will not find himself suddenly subject to increased prices or to decreased services. When this Bill becomes law all these safeguards will be removed. There will be nothing left except the power of the Ministry to say, "I may make regulations to safeguard this or that." Nowhere in the Bill is the consumer guarded as he is at present. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Wimbledon and the hon. Member, for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern, have accepted consumer councils with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should because they will be nominees of the Minister. They are not the watchdogs of the consumer; they are entirley appointed by the Minister and it is idle for anyone to pretend that these councils, purely nominees of the Minister, who will be appointed from a list submitted to him, will be equivalent to what the House has done for the consumer up to now. The consumer is left at the complete mercy of the Minister. It may be 526 that the Minister will be generous, but it is useless to pretend tonight that in passing this Bill we are aiding and guarding the consumer.
We are told that the consumers will benefit by better services. The Opposition have tried to get Amendment after Amendment accepted so that it would be the Government's duty to extend gas services throughout the country, yet the Minister was the first to refuse every such Amendment. At present, any gas undertaking is bound to provide an efficient and abundant supply of gas. They are bound to do it by statute. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not do it."] If they do not, then the hon. Member should be the first to come here and complain that the regulations laid down by the House are not being obeyed. But they should be the last to allow the Minister not to have the safeguards for the consumer that have been in every Act of Parliament dealing with the gas industry up to now. If he says, "It is not necessary to have these safeguards," let him admit that the consumer is not safeguarded by the Bill.
Let us look at the position of the worker. There has been a great deal of discussion about co-partnership. Members like Mr. Williamson, former Member for Brigg, have openly said that co-partnership is a bad thing, that it militates against obtaining the exclusive organisation of the workers. At the same time, however, it has provided 52,000 people in the industry with something that they have valued and respected. I believe I am right in saying that the gas industry has not had a strike for 20 years. That should be a tribute to co-partnership. The hon. Member for Taunton said that a person could not get money from his co-partnership if he was convicted of embezzlement. That drew cheers from Members opposite. Do they think that people in any sensible scheme would attempt to allow a member of it to take his money out if he had been convicted of embezzlement? Do they think that would be sound? Yet they cheered the hon. Member for Taunton. The co-partnership scheme has allowed people working in the industry to participate in the rewards that came from the industry. Members opposite might think it would be a bad thing that if a member of an industry was permitted to draw 527 from the profits he would be less likely to become a servile and obedient trade unionist.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
Is not that the opposite of what was said? Was it not said that if he drew from the profits at the expense of low wages it would be a bad thing?
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I accept that, but no Member opposite said it. I say that no case has yet been adduced where a gas company has paid low wages and made them up by co-partnership. I do not believe that the hon. Member could produce a case now if he was asked. Instead of co-partnership what is offered? Clause 56, simply says that the Minister may consult with whatever organisations seem to him to be sufficient or requisite. No longer is the industry to be accepted as it is now, where every section has the right of appeal to, and discussion with, the management. In future, it will be those unions which the Minister may think to be right. Is that something which we should like to see go through the House tonight? Members opposite have spoken against the closed shop. The hon. Member for Wimbledon said that in the electricity industry all unions had been consulted by the Minister, but because the Minister has done that are Members now to say that they will leave this power in the hands of the Minister, that it should be at the discretion of the Minister as to which organisations he will now consult in relation to the Gas Industry? It would be very rash to do that. I know that is not what hon. Members opposite would like.
We now come to the question whether this Bill would serve the country as a whole. Neither on the Second Reading, nor during the long Debates upstairs, nor on the Report stage nor even on the Third Reading today has any hon. Member opposite pointed to any advantage which the country is going to get from this Bill. It is quite apparent that there is not going to be an automatic increase either in volume or in service, and it is quite apparent that the Government are not going to increase the utility or scope of the by-products. What are they going to do? So far, not one statement has been made to show what advantage the country is going to achieve. The industry is 528 going to be nationalised because it happens to be in "Let us face the future." That may be a reasonable argument, and it is one with which I should not attempt to deal but for the Lord President of the Council, that nationalisation should benefit the worker, the consumer and the State. There is nothing in that criteria which says it should benefit Socialist philosophy. Yet that seems to be the first consideration here.
Finally, let us look at what, in fact, has happened. Since the Heyworth Report the industry, by itself, has done 100 per cent. more than that report thought was possible. We agree with that report that a certain amount of integration is necessary, but we say that that integration should be carried out as it has been by private enterprise with the result that has accrued through private enterprise, which is 100 per cent. over the target set. On the other hand, we know what has happened in coal and electricity. Not only has no benefit accrued, but prices have gone up and services have diminished. The Minister's coal, which is now used alternatively for rockeries or tiling roofs, is a perfect example, except that the price now demanded is far more than it was under private enterprise.
On the Second Reading the Minister leapt to his feet in indignation when I said that the electricity charges would go up. Since the Second Reading Debate those charges have gone up. [Interruption.] We are talking about benefits to the nation and there is no benefit to the nation in a Member paying increased hotel charges. All I would say tonight is that the Government have not done anything to prove any of the theses they put forward—they have proved no benefit in any of these spheres which in the words of the Lord President of the Council, it is their duty so to do. We on this side of the House, as the anti-nationalisers, can say that in the few years which have elapsed since the war, this industry has done 100 per cent. more under private enterprise than the Heyworth Report thought possible. Therefore, I hope that this House for these reasons will refuse to give this Bill a Third Reading.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Perrins (Birmingham, Yardley)
First of all I should like to say that the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest 529 and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) is not really informed on the subject on which he has been speaking, for it is fairly obvious that if he read reliable newspapers he would be better informed. Apparently he does not even bother to read or understand his own Press. He said there has not been a strike in the gas industry for 50 years.
§ Mr. Perrins
Very well, 20 years. I wonder if he recalls what happened in Manchester as recently as 1944. That is not so very long ago. The approach of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is the approach of many people to this problem, that because there has been no industrial trouble in the gas industry, therefore, it must be happy in its industrial relationship. The statement may appear correct, but the facts of the case are at variance with that, and I will tell the House why that should be so. There are certain industries like water, gas and electricity which are public utility undertakings and those of us who are trade union officials know how we have to warn our members against striking, because if they strike they do it at their peril, inasmuch as the community would be placed in a very bad position if those essential services stop. As a trade union official I have told my men, "You must at all costs carry on with your work even though your grievance is a real and bitter one." In the foundry industry or similar trade a like grievance would result in the men stopping work to fight the issue of better wages and conditions with their employers. Because there are no strikes in the gas industry the inference should not be drawn that all is well in that industry.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) is not in his place, because the city of which Handsworth is a part provides a glorious example for my argument. What happened during the war with regard to the gas industry? In various parts of the country many works were blitzed out of existence, and when trade union officials met the Employers' Federation with a view to securing wage advances they replied that owing to the state of the industry through bombing they could not afford any increase. No one could resist the logic of such an appeal, but the men 530 in the industry felt they had a grievance because they were tied to the industry through the war and E.W.O. and they could not get a natural advance in their wages I myself had to be a party to that refusal, and yet the worker could not benefit himself in the City of Birmingham because through E.W.O. he was tied to his job. At the other extreme there were people on munitions who were taking home terrific wage packets compared with employees in the gas industry.
The hon. Member for Handsworth could have said a lot about these things. The Birmingham undertaking is the largest municipal undertaking in the world. I do not want to weary the House with facts and figures, but it was municipalised 70 years ago. Before the war broke out it had more than 2,000 railway trucks. Our revenue for the financial year 1944–45 was over £5 million and we have only got an outstanding debt of £2½ million. The hon. Member for Handsworth talked about Socialist control, but there is no Socialist control in the City of Birmingham at the moment. I observed that he did not get up and say that the City of Birmingham was opposed to nationalising this industry. I wonder if the hon. Member did what I did. In 1946 I went to every works in Birmingham and I met the workers and many of the managements. I was there discussing what would be the position under the superannuation schemes having regard to the advent of social security. I know what they thought about this matter of nationalisation. The hon. Member for Handsworth may not know it but the joint committee of gas branches, to which each factory sends a representative, unanimously passed a resolution welcoming this particular venture of nationalisation.
The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch argued that no one had advanced reasons why we should nationalise this industry. I cannot help thinking that he did not listen to the Debates which have taken place, because on the Second Reading I went out of my way to deal with this specific aspect. I said that the Birmingham municipal authority had started a special department to deal with a very valuable service for industry—the heat treatment of metals. Under nationalisation every small town right across the Midlands, and even into the Potteries, can go to the heat-treatment 531 department of Birmingham, if need be. They may want to know something about annealing or hardening, or some other process in the treatment of metals, and all the information will be readily available to them. Hon. Members opposite ought to realise that under national control developments of that important character can be carried out.
I am speaking very much against the clock. I have promised to finish at a certain time, and I do not break my promises. It is important to realise that we cannot afford to waste our coal resources. I am satisfied that there is a tremendous field to be explored in making the most of that raw material. I know what gas undertakings have been in the past. I have been to organise the workers at gas works, and have found some of them run by three men, and often by not more than 10 people. In some cases even the general manager has taken a turn at stoking.
Before I finish, I want to say something about co-partnership. Hon. Members opposite have argued that by abolishing that system we are defrauding the workers in the industry. I say that co-partnership has been responsible for robbing the workers in the gas industry of many thousands of pounds in the aggregate. I know what I speak of, and I speak of what I know. When we have been to organise a gas works, the boss has sometimes got the wind up and has brought a so-called co-partnership scheme to his men. One cannot argue very much about the nature of these schemes. There has been such a multiplicity of them that there is nothing fixed or regular about them. The boss has said to the men, "You are all partners of the works now. Don't go into that union."
What have been the results of co-partnership? Those of us who know this system can tell the House about it. There is a regional council. Within an area towns and districts are graded. Unless the workers in the industry were organised, there was nobody to argue what their grade was. It was easy for an undertaking to give a man a co-partnership scheme and put him into grade D when properly he should have been in grade B. In spite of all the co-partnership schemes we have been able to organise the men, but when we have gone to the appeal 532 committee of the J.I.C. and have put before the committee the reasons why we felt that certain workers ought to be in a higher grade, because of local costs of living and other factors, they always trotted out the argument: "But these men are part of a co-partnership scheme." Right from the beginning we have known what the influence of the co-partnership idea has been.
I welcome the Bill because, for the first time, the organised worker in the gas industry has a legal right. He is in the Bill. The worker has a right by Act of Parliament to take part in negotiations. Too often the voice of the organised worker has not been heard in the proper channels. The Bill is certainly a step forward. I should have liked to say more, but my word is my bond. I promised to conclude at this time and I shall do so. I welcome the Bill and wish it all success.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
I was sorry that the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) has been cut short. He is one of the heroes or martyrs of the notorious Gas Committee, and we had several brushes upstairs. Let me tell him that I wish he had spoken at greater length because some of his statements are of great advantage to the party for which I speak tonight. The hon. Member criticised my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) for asserting that the gas industry has been singularly free from labour disputes. In my judgment that statement is absolutely accurate. I wish it could be said of many other industries, particularly of the coal industry. We fully agree with the hon. Gentleman's statement that coal should be treated as capital. We said so many times upstairs and on the Second Reading in this House. It is a crying scandal that the valuable by-products of coal should go up in smoke, and I think hon. Members on all sides of the House are in agreement that we should long since have tackled this problem of treating coal as capital; but we have never had any help either from the miners or the people who used to be on this side of the House.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Royal Commission after Royal Commission has had 533 voluminous and scientific evidence—I say this as a miner—in support of what he is now lamenting? The records are in the Library of the House.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Lord President and I, who are former colleagues, know perfectly that when a Government cannot make up its mind, it appoints a Royal Commission; and that is my opinion of Royal Commissions. We listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde). He is a most respected vice-president of the Lothian miners, I am told. He boldly stated here tonight that gas must be a subsidiary of the coal industry. I hope the Minister takes note of that: gas must be a subsidiary of the coal industry. Now the cat is well out of the bag, for we have constantly asserted that under nationalisation gas would be a subsidiary. The Minister has always vehemently denied it. I am very grateful indeed to the hon. Gentleman. He has certainly confirmed a statement made many times upstairs and made by me several times on the Floor of the House.
Hon. Members opposite have misunderstood the truncated proceedings upstairs. They seemed to regard us as having been anxious to emulate Midshipman Easy who suffered from what is called "an excess of zeal." I am bound to tell the House that in the hope of improving this Bill the Opposition put down nearly 1,000 Amendments. Alas! we were not permitted to deal with most of them. The Government, directly or indirectly, adopted about 160 of our constructive proposals. Unconsidering persons might, therefore, encourage the Opposition to claim that we have greatly improved this Bill. Vain indeed would be such a claim, for this Bill is rotten to the core. It blights the prospect of an industry full of promise and vitality, and it not only inflicts grievous injuries on the gas industry, but it will also damage many other industries in this country and, in my judgment, weaken Britain's power of recovery. The Opposition, therefore, must make this admission—we deserve little or no credit for our long-continued opposition. Much otherwise. We deeply deplore our failure to save this great industry from the follies of nationalisation.
534 Let us remember that the gas industry is the only fuel industry that has not failed the public. Complaints against coal, electricity and oil have almost exhausted our capacity for invective—one of the few unrationed things left in this country—and gas remains the faithful and efficient servant of the public. This Bill will blot out this singular distinction, to the great relief of their lordships Hyndley and Citrine, and some of the oil barons who recently played their part with the Ministry of Fuel and Power—not when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister, I may say—in deluding industrialists into abandoning gas and coal in favour of oil. Millions of pounds have been lost by that futile device.
May I once again appeal to the House—I know the appeal is likely to strike flinty hearts, but may I make it—to reconsider the crazy plan for controlling the gas industry created by this Bill. The control of this vast industry is nominally vested in a Gas Council consisting of a chairman, a deputy chairman and 13 chairmen of the area boards. Now these area board chairmen will be the most over-worked men in Britain if they do their duty—
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
§ Mr. Bracken
The Lord President indicates that the Minister is the most overworked man in England. I am inclined to agree with him. Whose fault is that? The Lord President's. In the most brutal way he kept the Minister up night after night while reposing in his very comfortable padded bed and drawing his salary at the same time. The Lord President's interruption has taken me off my course, but I maintain that these area board chairmen must be among the most overworked people in Britain, and from their remote controlling offices they must try to replace the personal services of the resident representatives of numberless gas companies who, as I think hon. Members opposite will admit, despite the fiercest competition from the electricity industry, have steadily improved gas consumption in Britain and have helped—arid this is something with which I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree—also to create many new and thriving industries in this country.
535 This Bill requires that the chairmen of these area boards, who are responsible for the provision of gas to millions of people and to manifold industries scattered throughout their far-flung areas, shall be constantly in London in order to determine Gas Council policy, in so far as the Minister is willing to allow them to do so, and to guard their industry against the depredations of the Coal Board and the Electricity Board. It may be that some hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like the word "depredations," but I have an ally in this matter. The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern, confirmed what I say, that the gas industry is to be a subsidiary of the Coal Board, and I say that one of the vital duties of these area chairmen, in their capacity as members of the Gas Council, must be to resist that idea because, if the industry is to be a subsidiary of the Coal Board, irretrievable damage will have been done to Britain.
The Lord President takes quite a different line. He made a speech the other day moderate in every way, appealing to the middle classes, and with no reference to my right hon. Friend from Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I am sure I am not misrepresenting him. He said that both electricity and coal would be encouraged to compete with gas. I believe the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said and I think that that is sound policy, but unequal, indeed, will be this competition. Many hon. Members opposite have intimate connections with mining and they know that the Coal Board contains a majority of what are called "full-timers," people with no other responsibilities. They know also that the Coal Board can charge what it likes to the gas industry. In pre-war times competition between coal producers in this country ensured good quality coal at reasonable prices to the gas industry.
§ Mr. Bracken
Today the gas industry is absolutely at the mercy of the Coal Board, and no mercy will it find. The Coal Board, aided or kicked by Mr. Horner, is greedy to strip the gas industry of the profitable market it has established in the by-products of coal. I do not blame the miners' representatives for 536 taking this line. There is no doubt that there are great profits in the by-products of coal—far bigger profits, in fact, than in the mining of coal itself. Mr. Homer is probably right in his view that he should grab those profits for his own people. Nevertheless, it will do great harm to the country if the Coal Board is enabled to dictate to the Gas Council.
The Minister will forgive me for saying, in view of all I have said about the constitution of the Gas Council, that it is an absurdity. It should consist, of course, of men with plenty of time on their hands to consider policy and to stimulate development. I do not think any of us would disagree about that. If there is to be a Gas Council, let it be a Council where men have leisure—not a Council consisting mainly of overworked area board chairmen who will spend most of their time travelling on nationalised and, therefore, profitless railway and air services. Most of the members of the Gas Council will spend a large part of their time in travelling. Another thing which would greatly improve the Gas Council—but the Minister will hardly accept the suggestion—is that it should be absolutely free from Ministerial interference.
Many hon. Members opposite represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies. I feel sure I have their support in saying that the position of Scotland and Wales in relation to the Gas Council is absolutely ridiculous. The whole of Scotland is an area. The chairman is required to provide gas from John o'Groats down to that rather disreputable establishment on the Border where marriages of an irregular character took place before the war. How can any chairman fulfil that responsibility? In addition to his responsibility of being area chairman for Scotland, he is expected to come to London regularly in order to participate in the shaping of policy in the Gas Council. No man can do that.
The same thing applies to Wales and Monmouth. Do the Welsh Members in this House really believe that one man can act as area chairman for Wales? Do they also believe that even the most talented of Welshmen, the great Lloyd George, with all his energy, could undertake the task of supervising all the gas affairs of Wales and travelling to London in order to participate in the Gas Council?
537 I must say that the Minister has some method in his cynical absurdities. I do not believe he ever intended to give any real power to the Gas Council, nor did he ever believe that these over-worked men could settle policy. These perambulating chairmen are absolutely useless in the business of settling policy. The fact is that the Minister still retains decisive powers over the gas industry. That is not a criticism of the Minister—it is a fact, and the House had better realise it. If hon. Members doubt it, let an industrious Member count the passages in the Bill in which the Minister takes power to give directions to area boards or to the Gas Council. I became weary the other night in trying to calculate them. I reached 70 and thought that was good enough for my argument. I am told, however, that the number is much greater.
The Parliamentary Secretary in his speech today, a speech full of amiability and optimism, told us a great deal about the Consultative Councils. He described them as a great instance of industrial democracy. I do not know what he meant by that. I will say this to him. Here is this prize specimen of industrial democracy. The Minister appoints a chairman of a gas consultative council and provides him with a secretary, which is an attachment of course, and then the Minister also provides that the gas consultative council must report to him secretly. Their meetings are not to be held in public. A secret report is rendered to the Minister. Does anyone think that is a splendid example of industrial democracy? Does anyone think it is a good method of dealing with the grievances of the public and the industry? No.
I feel sure that anyone who reads the Bill carefully will be struck by the immense powers over the gas industry retained or reserved by the Minister of Fuel and Power. It is our duty to answer the question—and much depends on the answer—whether such an overburdened Ministry can give adequate time to the affairs of the gas industry? The Lord President rightly said that the Minister is probably the most over-worked man in Britain, but that remark also applies to the Minister's officials. I felt real sorrow when I saw those hardworking civil servants sitting up every night—[Laughter.] I did. We did not mind keeping hon. Members opposite up, 538 but we did feel sorry for the civil servants. Does anyone really believe that this over-burdened Ministry can fulfil the responsibility we are thrusting upon it by passing this Bill?
Consider the Minister's, or the Ministry's, manifold responsibilities. We know from the Minister himself that he has more trouble about coal. His troubles deepen every day. I do not say that with any satisfaction. I regret it very deeply, because England grew to greatness by coal, and unless we can produce enough coal we shall inevitably decline to the position of a third-rate Power. We know the Minister has great trouble about coal, and to a certain extent that trouble is inevitable in handling coal through the National Coal Board.
Two months ago, on 1st April—as I said at the time, a most appropriate date—the Minister took over control of the electricity industry and he has been kept busy since apologising for the preliminary performances of that nationalised industry. For many years I had some responsibility for the B.B.C. It was about as difficult a responsibility as some of those assumed by the right hon. Gentle man. When I was in the Nigerian Desert, I got the astonishing views that the B.B.C. had been cut off owing to the performance of Lord Citrine and his colleagues. A thing the Germans were not able to do during the war, Lord Citrine and his incomparable colleagues on the Electricity Board were able to do very quickly. Certain people who told me the news seemed to be very relieved.
Oil is another responsibility of the Minister, and it is a very heavy responsibility. I do not think it is unfair to say that the Minister's difficulties in dealing with oil are mounting. The Minister has no responsibility for these oil difficulties, which can be attributed to international quarters. Nevertheless, the Minister has to carry this heavy load of coal, electricity and oil. How can any sensible person maintain that a Ministry, overburdened by so many baffling tasks, is capable of assuming or discharging the powers conferred by this Bill? I said during the Second Reading of the Bill that if it became law gas would become the Cinderella of the fuel industries. I must now acknowledge that that was a lamentable understatement.
539 I am afraid that there is very little public understanding of the scope or the ramifications of the gas industry and the effects of this Bill on its future. Many people still believe that the main function of gas is to provide fuel for the housewife and, of course, that is a very important function, but it so happens that the gas industry is one of the greatest and most developing of all British industries. As I have said before, it is the parent of many ever-growing chemical industries and it is a far more complex industry, I may tell the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer), than electricity. As the years go on, the industrial usage of gas continues to grow and I think the industry is justified in the proud claim, which one of its spokesman made the other day, that:Gas is essentially a fuel which can be efficiently controlled and burned under practically every required circumstance met with in industry.I hold that all these great developments in the gas industry will be checked by the bureaucratic bottleneck established by this Bill. I warn hon. Members opposite to consider whether it is really right to put this industry under the desperately over-worked Ministry of Fuel and Power.
I will say no more about the effect of the Bill on the gas industry and other industries. Let me now turn to the harm it will do to consumers. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch told us tonight, and rightly told us, that the Bill sweeps away a system of price controls—very wise price controls—laid down by this House more than a century ago. It also destroys all incentives to low prices. It can, I think, be honestly described as a Bill for dear gas—a Bill that will add to the cost of living and increase Britain's truly lamentable tendency to price herself out of export markets.
What does the Bill offer to gas workers? The hon. Member for Yardley said they are delighted by it. No fair-minded person will deny, for a start, that the gas industry has always been a model employer. It has also had the honour of establishing the largest system of co-partnership in Britain. Despite what the hon. Member for Yardley said, I aver that in co-partnership lies one of the great hopes of the future, one of the best methods of bringing workers and 540 employers together, one of the best methods of trying to put an end to the inhumanity which is inherent in modern industrial life.
§ Mr. Perrins
If the right hon. Gentleman would develop this theme, I personally should be very greatly pleased. Can he explain, where there is a co-partnership scheme in existence, precisely on what terms the worker shares in co-partnership?
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Member for Yardley really ought to consider, for instance, the position of co-partners in the Gas Light and Coke Company, who have protested most vehemently about the loss of their most valuable rights. He really ought to read about that before he interrupts. The hon. Member for Yardley will forgive me, and I think other hon. Members opposite will have to forgive me, for saying that the Socialist Party and some of the troglodyte trade unionists are bitterly opposed to co-partnership. The hon. Member for Yardley shows his hostility and many other hon. Members have deliberately attacked the principle of co-partnership. They ought to be happy now to know that this Bill will kill co-partnership in the gas industry and will grievously injure the interests of many workers. Hon. Members should take some notice of the fact that in this Bill no proper attempt is made to deal with the problem of redundancy or worsening conditions. It offers no right of compensation for redundancy, except—to quote the Bill—in such cases and to such extent as the Minister sees fit to provide. I say that this Bill hurts the workers; it hurts the housewives; and it hurts the industrialists.
What effect will it have on the tens of thousands of small people who have put their money in gas stocks? [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Most of these people are very small people. Many of them are workers. The compensation terms in this Bill are more worthy of the Burmese Government than of the British Government. The policy of using Stock Exchange quotations as a yardstick for compensating investors is absurd and disingenuous. [HON. MEMBERS: No."] The Minister knows it. I will explain if hon. Members will allow me. About 95 per cent. of gas securities have no Stock Exchange quotation, and yet these 541 are to be valued by the yardstick of the quotations of the other 5 per cent. No fair policy of compensation can be founded on the quotations of the 5 per cent. which are quoted on the Stock Exchange. As the Minister himself knows—because he was reminded upstairs about it—of those 5 per cent. most have not been dealt in for years; and one has not been dealt in for 7 years. Yet that is the sort of yardstick to be used for measuring the value of the investments of small people. The Treasury has indeed weighted the scales against the unfortunate investors in gas. The Treasury has plenty of financial experts. They must know perfectly well that the terms of compensation offered to gas stockholders are indeed illusory.
§ Mr. Bracken
During the war, the overworked Government to which the Lord President and I belonged refused to deal with the just claims by the gas industry to revise the price and dividend controls. We are open to censure in that respect. But, of course, we had other things to do. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that evacuation and war damage have greatly reduced the value of gas stocks and upset the market. I do feel that the quotations of 1947 and 1945 are utterly unfair methods of compensating gas stockholders, and I say that confiscation, not compensation, is the Government's policy, and that tens of thousands of small investors, many of them working men, are being plucked by the Socialist Government, who seem only too willing to emulate the financial methods of some Ministers behind the "Iron Curtain."
How do the local authorities fare under this Bill? The answer is that they, too, are being plucked. The gas boards to be set up by this Bill obtain £95 million worth of assets for the expenditure of £20 million. This must be one of the biggest hold-ups in history. Let me congratulate the Minister on winning a famous victory over the Aberdonians, the thriftiest people in the world, the people with the harshest financial minds. He has managed to take away from them their shares on contemptible terms. He is the first Englishman who has ever defeated the Aberdonians. Let me tell the Minister that his colleague the Minister of Food 542 will pay a heavy price for that victory. I very much regret that the ratepayers of this country have not woken up to the injuries inflicted on them by the Bill. They will wake up to them. I think they will understand them next year when their rates will be increased, and I hope they will punish their representatives who stood idly by while their assets were being filched by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
To sum up—because I must make way for the right hon. Gentleman—this Bill is part of what the Secretary of State for War called a trilogy. It completes the tightest fuel monopoly in the world; in fact, the tightest of all monopolies has been established by the right hon. Gentleman sitting opposite. It grievously injures our power to export, and hamstrings one of the liveliest and most hopeful industries in Britain. It injures the financial interests of the workers—and their champions opposite should remember that. It skins the investors; it loots the local authorities. It is, in fact, one of the worst Bills ever brought in by this Government—and that is saying a lot. Let me end by expressing the pious hope that it will be greatly improved in another place.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
a: We have had, in my opinion, an excellent Debate this afternoon, and I think that the reason for that is that we are really working to a timetable, and that the speeches have to come to an end by 10 o'clock; therefore, they are shorter and much more to the point. Moreover, many excellent speeches were made from this side of the House which, unfortunately, could not be made at earlier stages in our proceedings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because of the time taken by the Opposition.
Nevertheless, there were certain unusual features which accompanied the passage of this Bill, and reference has been made to them by a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate. The Parliamentary Secretary, in an excellent speech this afternoon, gave the figures of the number of Amendments and Divisions in this Bill as compared with the Electricity Bill. It is clear from these figures that the Bill which we are now considering would have been just as good if half the time had been spent on it. 543 Twice as much time was spent on this Bill in Committee as on the Electricity Bill, and two-thirds of the number of Amendments were made. That shows conclusively that a great part of the time spent on the Bill was purely wasted. I would say to the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) that the period which elapsed between the introduction of this Bill and its Third Reading—which was four weeks less than for the Electricity Bill—has nothing whatever to do with the actual time spent on it. We concentrated our work in Committee on the Gas Bill rather more, while the intervals between the various stages of the Electricity Bill were longer.
I want to express my personal thanks, first of all, to the Parliamentary Secretary, who has played a very great part in getting the Bill through, and who has done it, I think all sides of the House will agree, with courtesy, good humour and clarity; and also to the Solicitor-General, the Financial Secretary and to my hon. Friends. Kind references have been made to them from the other side of the House, and they certainly did bear the heat and burden of the day. I would also like to mention my officials, to whom the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) referred. It is quite true that even they had to stay up all night, but they were in the fortunate position of being able to organise a shift system, like the Opposition and unlike the Government supporters.
One of the interesting questions which I have been asking myself a good many times during the last few weeks was the reason for the Opposition's attitude to this Bill. Why pick on gas? Why did the Opposition on the whole, let electricity go through in a reasonable and good-tempered way and yet, when it comes to gas, have all this fuss and bother? At first, I thought that this was the considered policy of the Conservative Party, that they had decided to make a new lot of trouble for my right hon. Friend the Lord President, and that every Bill that we brought forward was to be opposed in the same obstructive manner. But I have since come to the conclusion that that probably is not the case; because when one looks at the attendance of the Opposition on the Report stage it really does not suggest that there had been a general 544 whipping round, and that all the Members of the Conservative Party had been told to turn up. Only once on each day did they manage to achieve more than 100 Members in a Division; on the first day their numbers fell to 55 by midnight, and on the second day to 24 in the early hours of the morning. Although the Opposition Whip probably would not wish to compare himself with Viscount Margesson, I am quite sure that it he had really wanted to do so, he could have organised a few more Members to be present.
§ Mr. Bracken
Unlike the Lord President we do not believe in deploying all our troops. We kept some in reserve.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Of course, I realise the very awkward position in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself, deserted by his own side; he has to find some explanation. I think this suggests a rather more personal explanation, and I have come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman has been starting a new group in the Tory Party. Its official name is the "New Irish Group," but I understand from the Press that colloquially it is known as the "Bracken Circus." I must say that I feel the word "circus" is peculiarly appropriate, because, after all, upstairs in Committee we did have some excellent clowning, a lot of somersaulting, a general knock-about and, indeed, the whole atmosphere of the "Crazy Gang," led by the right hon. Gentleman from behind—because, as we so often observed, when he got up and accepted Amendments his followers immediately got up and said, "Not on your life." When it comes to the right hon. Gentleman's own patter—I think that is really the appropriate word, because it has become oppressively familiar to us—he does use certain weapons very well: invective, exaggeration, abuse—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Well, no, not accurate banter: inaccurate banter—abuse, flattery—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—yes, flattery occasionally, and misrepresentation. Of all these he certainly is a master, Many of my hon. Friends could 545 quote any number of instances of those. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary instanced a few of the phrases which the right hon. Gentleman used about him. I cannot claim that I managed to achieve quite the same flamboyant expressions, but he did give me a fairly good list on the whole: sergeant-major; headmaster; doctrinaire; a rabbit—a little more offensive that one—Oliver Cromwell—a curious combination—a stony Socialist, and an electroplated edition of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy. Let me say, in passing, that I welcome that comparison; I have the highest regard for my right hon. Friend, and I consider that the kind of language used about him by the Opposition, and by the Opposition Press, is thoroughly discreditable to themselves.
I do not imagine, Mr. Speaker, that you will have read the right hon. Gentleman's speeches in Committee, but certainly if you had listened to them, I cannot help thinking that you would agree with this: that they are extremely reminiscent of that screeching, raucous voice we used to hear from time to time—it spoke in German—over the wireless before and during the war—the voice of Herr Hitler. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] After all, I have been bottled up a long time in the Committee upstairs, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me a little latitude tonight. I do not wish to insult him, because I think there is a very simple explanation of this. The right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Information during the war, and he no doubt had to listen to all these things, and the result of it is, I am afraid, that he cannot help imitating them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where were you?"] I was also serving my country.
I think the Opposition might really take this banter in rather better heart. I am merely saying that the right hon. Gentleman is another war casualty. It is very regrettable, but we suffered a lot through the war—we have not got the power stations we need, we are short of materials and so on; there it is. This behaviour of the right hon. Gentleman had, of course, an objective; it was designed to provoke supporters of the Government to speak more frequently, but the right hon. Gentleman failed completely in this task. The ranks stood firm and solid. Like Cromwell's Ironsides they 546 did not budge, and they were not induced to rise however they might have felt inside. The other purpose which this method of attack served was to hide the right hon. Gentleman's poverty of argument, because I must say, reading these speeches—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
—that never has anyone spoken so much on subjects of which he knew so little as the right hon. Gentleman did in Committee upstairs. Hon. Members say "Cheap," but they were not in Committee with us upstairs, otherwise they would know that nothing I have said tonight to the right hon. Gentleman compares in offensiveness to the things he has said to my hon. Friends and myself. However, we will leave it there.
I turn to an entirely different subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That only shows how much it has got under the skins of hon. Members opposite. I turn to the subject of the salaries of members of the boards of nationalised industries, which has been referred to by several Members during this Debate. It was referred to in particular by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett), by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies). We have the position that two Members on this side said that they considered the salaries were too high, and the hon. Member for Edgbaston replied, in effect, by saying, "Do not be so silly."
I take the view that the salaries fixed so far are considerably lower than those paid for similar posts in public authorities and boards before the war. For instance, I think I am right in saying that Lord Ashfield was paid £12,500 a year as Chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board. The Chairman of the Central Electricity Board was paid £7,500 a year. The salaries we have fixed are, in the main, lower than that. Compare them with what is being paid in industry today for jobs of anything like an equivalent character. The answer is, again, that salaries paid in industry are substantially above this figure—they are mostly five-figure salaries. I am not making any comment on that at the moment; I am 547 merely stating the facts. Compared with the salaries previously paid in the industries concerned, for anything like comparable jobs—and there were no jobs carrying anything like the same responsibility in those industries before—the salaries we have fixed for the members of the boards are much less. The fact is that if we want the best men, as we do, for these jobs we must be prepared to pay them adequate salaries.
I must therefore say to my hon. Friends that while it is, of course, most desirable that members of these boards should be inspired with the ideals of public service, which we all appreciate, idealism alone is not enough. We shall not get the men we really need unless we are prepared to pay something not too unfavourable compared with alternative salaries elsewhere. As to managers and technicians, I can only say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon that the salaries being paid in the top grades of the electricity industry, for instance, compare favourably with the salaries paid to the members of the boards.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That is an entirely different issue. What my hon. Friend was saying was that they are too low in relation to salaries of members of the boards. I cannot agree that the chairman of an electricity board, who in some cases is a distinguished electrical engineer, should, for some reason or other, get less than his chief engineer. That does not make sense at all.
I want to come to another question which is closely connected with this matter. The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), who is not here, which is a pity, made some remarks about the quality of the persons appointed to these boards. I asked him whether he would specify the persons to whose appointment he objected. He made a general accusation, saying, "We object to their quality; we do not think they are good enough." That is not at all a proper procedure. If Members attack the quality of members of the boards, they should say who they are attacking. If there was time I could go through the list of the members of the boards, and ask 548 to which members objection was taken. I have a suspicion—I may be wrong, and I hope I am—that what the hon. Gentleman and, I suspect, some of his hon. Friends opposite mean is that they do not like the idea of people who have been trade union officials at lower salaries getting very much more than they used to get. Is that right?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman opposite denies that that is so, because it would be a most shocking accusation to make. I have previously expressed my objection to the kind of smear campaign which has been conducted against the members of these boards, and I can only draw one consolation from that. It is that if Members opposite really thought they had any chance of winning the next Election, they would be much more careful about what they said about these people. The fact that they are not careful indicates just what they think of their chances. I want to say one other thing about the hon. Member for Northwich. He made what I consider to be a grossly offensive remark about my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary who was not here at the time. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have been here now, because I wanted to give him an opportunity to withdraw it. He is not here, but this will go on the record and I hope that he will at least send my right hon. Friend some kind of an apology.
There has been a great deal of talk about co-partnership in the course of our proceedings today and in the earlier stages of the Bill. Naturally enough the Tory Party have made a great deal of the fact that nationalisation puts an end to co-partnership in one sense of the term. They object to that because co-partnership and profit sharing might be described as the "New Look" for the Tories. I think that is a pretty flimsy sort of drapery, but since we know so little about their future plans and we find it difficult to obtain any information on the subject we ought to be grateful for anything they can offer in this way.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth excelled himself in the language he used in his Second Reading speech on the subject of co-partnership: 549Co-partnership must not be looked upon as a mere aspect of profit: it is something greater and better It is the glad acceptance of a full identity of interests between owners of the industry, employees and consumers. … I aver that co-partnership is one of the best ways of providing the good life that our people deserve." [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 10th February, 1948: Vol. 447; c. 254.]It is rather a pity that the right hon. Gentleman, before he indulged in these flights of oratory, did not study the past history of co-partnership. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) in very excellent speeches this evening told us about their own experiences. If the right hon. Gentleman had bothered to read what I think is the latest official report on this subject, the 1920 report on co-partnership and profit sharing, he would have found these wordsThe most noticeable feature in the statistics of the profit sharing and co-partnership movement in this country is the large proportion of the schemes which have ceased to exist.That is an official judgment on this movement. [HON. MEMBERS: 1920 is a long time ago."] It is 1920, but there is no evidence to show that the movement has made any progress whatever since then.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am sorry but I cannot give way: I have been interrupted a great deal. I have quoted from an official report and there is really no adequate reply to that. It indicates what we on our side know perfectly, that co-partner-ship had a small beginning, developed to a certain extent but did not make a great deal of progress. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to consult with his hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston who gave us some very cautious advice on this subject this afternoon. We might ask what has been done in other industries, for instance, the steel industry, about which the Opposition like to talk rather freely nowadays. There is no co-partner-ship in the steel industry. There is no co-partnership scheme in electrical engineering, with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) is associated. [HON. MEMBERS: "But there is in gas."] I do not think that even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth could really expect to get the good life of which he 550 talked entirely from co-partnership in the gas industry. The fact is—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
—that in any case, in so far as co-partnership is concerned, we are quite prepared and we have provided for it in the Bill, that if both sides of the industry want to continue with schemes of that kind they can do so. The only thing they cannot do, and we have pointed this out from the start, is to provide that the shares shall be privately owned. There will not be any shares. Schemes like consultative councils, welfare arrangements and all the rest of it are perfectly possible of being carried on. Indeed, I have no doubt that a large part of them will be carried on.
We have had a great deal of talk about compensation—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I really am not going to give way to hon. Members who come at the last minute into this Debate and try to interrupt my speech. I will give way to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth if he wants me to. I want to say a word about compensation, and particularly about the compensation to persons who hold shares. I have never been able to understand the fierce opposition coming from those benches to the principle of Stock Exchange values. There is one very simple argument which I would like to put to hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Suppose the compensation to be paid to the owners of the shares were grossly in excess of the market value of the shares; would hon. Gentlemen opposite have defended that position?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
They would not. If the compensation had been, let us say, slightly in excess of the market value of the shares? It would have been difficult, but personally I think that if any Opposition had accepted' the fact that the Government would deliberately pay more—of course, I would not mind about one per cent, more, or something like that, but I mean "more" in a substantial sense—than the Stock Exchange value of the shares, they would have been neglecting their duty. I equally think that if the stockholders were to get substantially less than the value of their shares, that 551 would be wrong. That is one of the most conclusive arguments for this method of compensation.
The right hon. Member and his Friends have used very extravagant language about this matter. On the Report stage the right hon. Gentleman spoke of our method of compensation as an "abominable swindle." Giving them the Stock Exchange value of their shares was an abominable swindle. Other hon. Members have spoken about barefaced robbery. Even the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) got as far this afternoon as using the word "looting." That was rather extreme for him, I must say. Let us just examine what has been the position of the persons who held stock in the electricity industry, and see how they fared. [Interruption.] A right hon. Gentleman opposite said "Barefaced robbery."[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not take gas?"] Because holders of gas stocks have not yet been compensated.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
It is barefaced robbery of the shareholders and of the municipalities.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Let us take the value of electricity shares, based upon the actuaries' investment index in December, 1946, just before the Bill was introduced. The index number stood at 112.6. It moved up in the next four months to 113.9. In April, 1947, and thereafter—because of course, by then the prices of the shares were pegged—it did not move at all. One may say that the price stood at that level of about 114 at the time of the vesting date. If a person had had £100 in electricity shares he would have retained their full value. Of course, it has always been possible, as we have said all along, for any stock holder to sell his shares and to reinvest the money in something else, if he wanted to without any loss. However, the Opposition always argue in terms of the person who holds on to his shares. He holds on to his shares and gets the value of his shares. But suppose we had not nationalised electricity. What would have happened? One can judge that pretty well by the movement of the index of all other shares between those dates. What happened? It stood in December, 1946, at 164.4, and it fell between then and March, 1948—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I cannot give way now—it fell, in fact, 9 per cent. to 150, and it is a fact that the shareholder in electricity stock has gained 10 per cent. as a result of having his stock taken over. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Daltons'?"] An hon. Gentleman says, "What about Daltons'"? It may be that the Government's efforts to curb inflation during that period produced some fall in the value of shares but, the fact remains that those who held electricity shares gained by 10 per cent., and if anybody describes that to me as an abominable swindle, all I can say is that I do not think it was the stockholders who were swindled. We know the right hon. Gentleman uses words in a curious way, but even so that really goes very far.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities made great play with the coal prices. He made great play with electricity prices. I must say I thought that was really unworthy of him. He knows perfectly well why certain electricity charges have gone up. They have gone up because the undertakings which have been taken over were making losses before and it was necessary to put them up. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is because of the Bill."] When he talks about the peak load and the B.B.C. being cut off, he knows perfectly well—he was a member of the war Government—that that is due simply and solely to the shortage of plant occasioned by the war. These arguments are really quite ridiculous and quite unworthy even of the Opposition Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] The Opposition might do me the courtesy of listening to the last three minutes of my speech.
In our opinion, this Bill carries out what is really agreed to by all sensible and sober students of the gas industry. We all agree that integration is necessary, we all agree that integration is overdue, and we all agree that nothing was done about it for years before the war. All that the Opposition can suggest is further delay, a Royal Commission, more lawyers and more accountants, leading to the same position in the end. We do not propose to follow that path or get into that bog. We propose to follow the 553 broad, straight highway signposted in this Bill.
This Bill gives the industry the structure which it needs. It compensates the shareholders fairly, and it provides an opportunity for those in the industry to make the fullest possible use of their knowledge and experience. It is not a sensational Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—but is a good solid workmanlike Bill—which has been very little
§ altered in its passage through this House—a sound piece of Socialist legislation with which I and my hon. Friends are very proud to have been associated. I am very glad that the House will give it its Third Reading by an overwhelming majority.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 340; Noes, 190.557
|Division No. 227.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Daines, P.||Harrison, J.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Haworth, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon A. V.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Davies Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hewitson, Captain M.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Deer, G.||Hicks, G.|
|Attewell, H. C.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Holman, P.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Delargy, H. J.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Diamond, J.||Horabin, T. L.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Dobbie, W.||House, G.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Dodds, N. N.||Hoy, J.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Donovan, T.||Hubbard, T.|
|Baird, J.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Hughes, Emrys (S Ayr)|
|Balfour, A.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwick)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Dumpleton, C. W.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Durbin, E. F. M.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)|
|Barton, C.||Dye, S.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Battley, J. R.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Beattie, J. (Belfast, W.)||Edelman, M.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool, Edge Hill)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellly)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Belcher, J. W.||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Janner, B.|
|Benson, G.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Jay D. P. T.|
|Beswick, F.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Jeger, G. (Winchester)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Jenkins, R. H.|
|Binns, J.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Johnston, Douglas|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Ewart, R.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fairhurst, F.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Farthing, W. J.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fernyhough, E.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Field, Capt. W. J.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Keenan, W.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Follick, M.||Kendall, W. D.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Foot, M. M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Forman, J. C.||King, E. M.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Kinley, J.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)|
|Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Kirby, B. V.|
|Burden, T. W.||Gallacher, W.||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Burke, W. A.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||George, Lady M Lloyd (Anglesey)||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Byers, Frank||Gibbins, J.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Callaghan, James||Gibson, C. W.||Leonard, W.|
|Carmichael, James||Gilzean, A.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Castle, Mn. B. A.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Lever, N. H.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Gooch, E. G.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Champion, A. J.||Goodrich, H. E.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Logan, D. G.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Grenfell, D. R.||Longden, F.|
|Coldrick, W.||Grey, C. F.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||McAdam, W.|
|Collins, V. J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||McAllister, G.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Griffiths, W. D (Moss Side)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||McGhee, H. G.|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Guy, W. H.||McGovern, J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mack, J. D.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Crawley, A.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Daggar, G.||Hardy, E. A.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|McLeavy, F.||Price, M. Philips||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Pritt, D. N.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Proctor, W. T.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Pryde, D. J.||Tiffany, S.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Timmons, J.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Randall, H. E.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Ranger, J.||Tolley, L.|
|Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Rankin, J.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Rees-Williams, D. R.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Marquand, H. A.||Reeves, J.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Usborne, Henry|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Rhodes, H.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Medland, H. M.||Richards, R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Mellish, R. J.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Messer, F.||Robens, A.||Walkden, E.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Walker, G. H.|
|Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Monslow, W.||Rogers, G. H. R.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Moody, A. S.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Watson, W. M.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Royle, C.||Weitzman, D.|
|Morley, R.||Sargood, R.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Scollan, T.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Segal, Dr. S.||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Mort, D. L.||Sharp, Granville||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Murray, J. D.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Wigg, George|
|Nally, W.||Shunwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Shurmer, P.||Wilkes, L.|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Simmons, C. J.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Skinnard, F. W.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Noel-Buxton, Lady||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Snow, J. W.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Solley, L. J.||Willis, E.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Parker, J.||Steele, T.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Woods, G. S.|
|Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Lambeth, N.)||Wyatt, W.|
|Paton, J. (Norwich)||Stubbs, A. E.||Yates, V. F.|
|Pearson, A.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Peart, T. F.||Sylvester, G. O.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Perrins, W.||Symonds, A. L.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Popplewell, E.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Mr. William Whiteley and|
|Porter, G. (Leeds)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Mr. Robert Taylor.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Davidson, Viscountess||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoal||De la Bère, R.||Harvey, Air-Cmdre. A. V.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Digby, S. W.||Haughton, S. G.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Head, Brig. A. H.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Donner, P. W.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Drayson, G. B.||Hogg, Hon. Q.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hollis, M. C.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)|
|Birch, Nigel||Duthie, W. S.||Hope, Lord J.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col D. C. (Wells)||Eccles, D. M.||Howard, Hon. A.|
|Boothby, R.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Elliot, Lieut.-Cot. Rt. Hon. W.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.|
|Bowen, R.||Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Hurd, A.|
|Bower, N.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Fox, Sir G.||Jarvis, Sir J.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Jeffreys, General Sir G.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Jennings, R.|
|Carson, E.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham|
|Challen, C.||Gage, C.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.|
|Channon, H.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Glyn, Sir R.||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Cole, T. L.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Grant, Lady||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Gridley, Sir A.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Grimston, R. V.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Linstead, H. N.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Harden, J. R. E.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Low, A. R. W.|
|Lucas, Major Sir J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Osborne, C.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|McCallum, Maj. D.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Pickthorn, K.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Pitman, I. J.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|McFarlane, C. S.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n. S.)|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Prescott, Stanley||Teeling, William|
|Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Price-White, Lt-.Col. D.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|MacLeod, J.||Raikes, H. V.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Touche, G. C.|
|Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Rayner, Brig. R.||Turton, R. H.|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Reid, Rt. Hon J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Renton, D.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Marples, A. E.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Marsden, Capt. A.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Robinson, Roland||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset E.)|
|Maude, J. C.||Ropner, Col L.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Mellor, Sir J.||Sanderson, Sir F.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Savory, Prof. D. L.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Scott, Lord W.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Shepherd, W S. (Bucklow)||York, C.|
|Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Smithers, Sir W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Nield, B. (Chester)||Snadden, W. M.||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Noble, Comdr A. H. P.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Mr. Drewe.|
|Odey, G. W.||Spence, H. R.|
Question put, and agreed to.