§ [ALLOTTED DAY]
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, for your guidance, on a point of which I gave you notice, before we come to consider the Third Reading of the Iron and Steel Bill, which has only got to its Third Reading by a strict use of the Guillotine? Can you, as Mr. Speaker, do anything to stop this country going another step down the totalitarian road and anything in defence of freedom of speech? I venture to submit that you have a precedent for this, because there is a picture in St. Stephen's Hall under which is written:Sir Thomas More, as Speaker of the House of Commons, in spite of Cardinal Wolsey's imperious demands, refuses to grant King Henry VIII a subsidy without due Debate.I should like to ask, with great respect, whether you will be another Sir Thomas More, and if you can find anywhere in the rules and regulations of this House means by which you, as Mr. Speaker, can say that there has been an abuse of the powers of the Government? I should like to know what would happen if you said that you would leave the Chair and take away the Mace?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asks whether I can say anything about shortening of Debates. I am a servant of the House, and the House has decided, by Guillotine Motion, that the Debate must close at a certain hour. It would be very wrong if I disobeyed an order of the House, because my first duty is to see that the orders of the House are obeyed; I should be open to a vote of censure if I did anything to prevent the House doing anything otherwise. I was just a little alarmed when the hon. Member asked me to be another Sir Thomas More. I can assure him that I have no desire to lose my head.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Jack Jones)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) for having put the House in such a good mood as to make my task possibly a little easier than it otherwise might have been. Before proceeding with my main argument may I be allowed to express, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself and, I believe, the House as a whole, regret at the continued absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan). As the House is aware, the right hon. Gentleman is recovering from a serious illness rather more slowly than we should have wished, but I take this opportunity of expressing our sincere good wishes for his speedy and complete recovery.
I am sure the House will agree that we have had a very healthy, prolonged and not too contentious Debate on this great Bill. At one time we were invited to believe, as was the country, that the introduction of this Bill would lead to immediate chaos within the iron and steel industry and that the country as a whole would rise en masse against it. Subsequent events, however, have proved the complete opposite to be the case. As the House is aware, the Government decided to apply the Guillotine procedure to this Bill and as one who attended practically every minute of the proceedings in Committee and on Report, I am convinced that had the Opposition made the best possible use of the time allocated to them, instead of indulging in somewhat long-drawn out arguments, every Clause in the Bill could have been discussed.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Closure was not asked for once during the whole of the Committee proceedings?
§ Mr. Jones
That may be true; nevertheless, I am convinced that if the Opposition had used the time allocated to them in the way in which it could have been used, every Clause in the Bill could have been discussed.
I must place on record that 137 hours have so far been devoted to consideration of the Bill during its passage through the House and that the time spent on some Clauses has been greatly in excess of the 1503 time spent on similar Clauses in other nationalisation Measures. It may interest the House to know that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas)—whom I do not see in his place at the moment —calculated at the fourth Sitting of the Standing Committee, that if the Committee proceedings continued at the same pace as up to then no fewer than 1,320 Sittings would have been required to complete the Committee stage. This was the computation of an hon. Member whose mathematics I take more notice of than his political views. Given an average of as many as five sittings per week in a 35-week Parliamentary year, this would have meant 7½ years in which to get the Bill as far as the Report stage—
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
It is most misleading to attempt to make an arithmetical calculation in this matter. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the same argument applies here as applied on the Transport Bill, where there was general agreement to discuss at length the major principles of many Clauses on the understanding that that discussion would not be repeated on Report?
§ Mr. Jones
I do not wish to pick a quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman, who should be well versed in mathematical calculations, but if he will look at the Standing Committee Report of the fourth Sitting he will see that the hon. Member for Keighley said that much more time would be taken on the later stages of the Bill than on the earlier stages. However, I wish to pay tribute to the fact that, generally speaking, the proceedings in Committee were conducted in an atmosphere of good will. There was, on all sides, a desire to improve the Bill wherever improvements were found possible. [Laughter.] The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) always laughs when these statements are being made; he is a past master in the art of using phrases like "utter nonsense" and "ridiculous" about anything, 1504 unless it comes from the Opposition. It has been suggested by the Opposition that the Bill has been substantially rewritten since its introduction. But if a careful comparison is made of the Bill as it is now before the House, word by word, line by line and Clause by Clause, with the Bill as it was on introduction, it will be seen that this suggestion is completely without foundation. Amendments have been made to meet the serious views put forward by the Opposition—
§ Mr. Jones
Well, if there are only four it shows that only four serious points of view were put forward. In no sense can it be claimed that the Bill has been drastically altered. Clauses 2 and 3 have been modified to meet, partly at any rate, Opposition views, but the only Clause in respect of which the Opposition could reasonably claim that it has been re-written is Clause 6, and on that my right hon. Friend made it clear, on Second Reading, that it was his intention to put before the Committee a complete re-draft of the Clause after consultation with the various bodies concerned. Here I want to pay tribute to all the parties with whom we were in consultation—the appropriate trade associations, trade unions and others who helped us to redraft Clause 6. Those consultations were helpful, and we were grateful for that help. I should also like to pay a tribute to the Opposition and to consumer bodies concerned with that Clause—
§ Mr. Jones
No, but there was useful discussion and there were many helpful suggestions. Incidentally, there is a point about Clause 41 which I should like to make clear. In using the words "loss or diminution of emoluments" in that Clause we are following the precedent of the Gas Act. Prolonged consideration was given by the Government to the proper phrasing necessary to deal with the compensation provisions of the Bill. It is however possible that the words "loss or diminution of emoluments" may not cover all the cases which may arise. In cases not completely covered by the Clause where serious hardship can be proved to have arisen out of the nationalisation of the industry, my right hon. Friend will expect the Iron and Steel 1505 Corporation and the publicly owned companies to act as all good and sympathetic employers would, and to make proper arrangements with the trade unions and other bodies concerned for consideration of all such cases.
We on this side of the House are absolutely convinced that the Bill as now presented is workmanlike and can be effectively implemented to the advantage of production, of the efficiency of the industry and of the economic well-being of the nation. One cannot mention the word "production" without once again paying tribute to the magnificent achievement of the men and management in this great industry, an accomplishment which has been achieved right up to this very moment. Indeed, this morning's Press once again shows that production in the country was never on a higher level than in the month of April. We in this House should never allow an opportunity to pass of paying public tribute to the magnificent effort of this industry.
§ Mr. Jones
Yes, under private enterprise, but also under a firm promise by this Socialist Government to nationalise the industry. The Opposition always seek—and I make no complaint of it—to belittle the statement I made in my Second Reading speech, when I said it was because of this Government's determined policy and of the request of the men in the industry for public ownership and control, that the workers in that industry gave to the Socialist Government and to the country this very fine achievement, including a seven-day week without parallel in the world. Definite statements have been made by Members of the Opposition that some of the present managers of the industry would find it difficult to accept service in the industry under this Bill, but I am confident that such statements are completely without foundation and are a libel on those very fine, patriotic men, many of whom I know personally and many of whom welcome this Bill to a far greater extent than the Opposition suspects.
The Bill, to use a word which my right hon. Friend so often used in Committee, is a flexible one. It provides for easy transfer to public ownership and the change over will not interfere with the current expansion of the industry. It 1506 enables an integrated policy to be brought about in the best interests of the management, workers and consumers, and will undoubtedly prevent many of the evils of the past occurring again. This is not the time nor the place to weary the House about the evils of the past. I am concerned now with the future of the industry. I could speak of those evils at great length, but that is not my intention. I trust we shall never see such conditions as were to be seen in the inter-war years and the effect they had upon the lives of those primarily engaged in this industry and upon the country. We cannot interfere with steel production without interfering with shipbuilding, engineering and other ancillary trades.
The Bill will further the Government's policy of directing our production in the best possible way in the interests of our economic recovery. It will ensure that we shall continue to maintain good relationships between management and men, something which is an example not only to this country but to the world at large. I have had some personal interest in bringing this relationship about, over many years. On expansion and output one could speak at great length, but here all I wish to say is that this Bill provides also for the scientific training and education of personnel. When I talk about personnel I do not mean the fellow at the top, but the man who shows initiative and desire, who will get the opportunity denied him in the past, of rising right from the bottom.
It is not my intention to use the time of the House to deal with the details of the Bill. Very few details of any consequence have been left without debate and consideration, and it is because I believe that this Bill is in the best interests of the country that I support it. There has been some criticism of the Bill from one of the major unions concerned. [Interruption]. The Opposition need not shake their heads and interrupt, because this criticism is that the Government's proposals should have been far more drastic. That is the only criticism we have had from all the unions concerned and it came from one particular area which I shall not name. They complained that the Bill left far too much power in the hands of those who at the moment are controlling and guiding this great industry. However, speaking generally, the overwhelming majority of those whose interests lie 1507 nearest the industry are in favour of the Bill. I myself attended a public meeting at Consett last night—it has been my duty to get round the country at week-ends particularly to the steel areas—and there I found that this Bill was supported by men representative of a wide area.
§ Mr. Jones
We got the criticism from the Scottish area where they think we have not gone far enough. The iron and steel workers, those grand men, who along with their managements will be called upon to play the major part will, I know, through their industry, again rededicate themselves to the services of our country. With the assurance of goodwill from all other interested sections of the community, this Bill can safely be sent on its way. I wish it Godspeed, and I ask confidently for the support of this House for it.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
I beg to move to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months."
If this Bill leaves for another place this evening, it will leave unwept, unhonoured and undiscussed. The Government are about to ring down their particular form of iron curtain on this Parliamentary farce. The Parliamentary Secretary quoted some figures; I will give some, too. On Report, 109 out of 214 Opposition Amendments were guillotined, and in Committee, of the 480 Opposition Amendments, 198 were guillotined. No fewer than seven Clauses were not discussed at any stage of the proceedings; sixteen Clauses and six Schedules were not discussed in Committee, and 11 were not discussed on Report. Everyone knows that, mathematics or not, the Bill has not been discussed fully enough. I said a minute ago that this was a Parliamentary farce; it is nearly a Parliamentary tragedy.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Bill was not discussed in Committee. I have counted all the speeches made in Committee, not including the interruptions, and I find the Opposition made 698, which works out at 35 speeches each. The Government made 390. The 1508 right hon. Gentleman himself made 90. Is he now trying to tell us that the Committee had not the time to discuss the Bill?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly aware that about two-thirds of the time of the Committee was occupied by the Opposition and one-third by the Government. He has gone so far as to count the number of interjections as if they were speeches.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
It is undeniable that 198 out of 480 Amendments were undiscussed in Committee and that 109 on the Report stage were guillotined. If hon. Members opposite think that is adequate discussion, we say they are welcome to it.
§ Sir A. Salter
Will my right hon. Friend add, to complete his argument, that the Bill was guillotined out of this House when there was no pressure on Parliamentary time whatsoever, and the purpose must therefore have been to suppress debate for the purpose of suppressing debate?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I was coming to that point a little later. This is no minor Bill which is railroaded through all stages of Parliamentary discussion. It is a Bill which has been proclaimed by hon. Members on the other side as marking the end of an epoch.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member below the Gangway reinforces my statement. The Bill has been proclaimed in triumph as the end of private enterprise as we have known it, the private enterprise which has developed our trade and our Empire, and indeed the fame of this country, in the past. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), who is not at the moment in his place, has assumed the role of tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine. How he must have chuckled as Clause after Clause was decapitated. The Bill—and everyone must realise it —has not been guillotined to make room for more urgent business. There has been any amount of time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) has just said. The Bill has been guillotined, and discussion has been curtailed, for the first time 1509 since the Mace was removed by force from this Chamber, in order, not to promote further discussion on more urgent Measures, but because the Government consider further discussion of this Measure impertinent, inconvenient or inappropriate, or perhaps merely fatiguing. I do not know which. We are asked to give the Bill a Third Reading against a background of great uncertainty, a general background of uncertainty. The economic position of this country is no more than convalescent. That convalescence is due to the generosity of the United States.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Not entirely, of course, but without the generosity of the United States we could not make a general recovery. If the hon. Member wishes for authority, let him look at the Economic White Paper or at the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we should have had 1½ million unemployed in this country at the moment if it had not been for Marshall Aid.
I say, and we on this side say, that it is not the action of wise, prudent or honest men to launch an untried experiment on this scale and to gamble at this time with the national recovery, with other people's money. Let us be quite sure about that. The Bill is the biggest gamble in State ownership that has ever been seen here or in any other part of the world. It is not only going to wrench from its bed-plate the iron and steel industry, but it will affect the pattern, design and structure of almost every industry in the country. If the Government were to stop their projects of nationalisation of public services or utilities, it would be very difficult but not impossible for private enterprise to retain the initiative, contrivance and boldness with which the country would regain its position in the world. If the Government are to add steel, the principal raw material of industry, then I say that private enterprise cannot exist as we have known it.
Private enterprise cannot exist if the Government are going to compete in a great variety of industries with the taxpayer, using the taxpayers' own money. That is where the money comes from to feed and to fan the competition. Private enterprise cannot compete when the 1510 allocation and priorities of raw materials will be made, as they must inevitably, in favour of Government plants and Government factories. It is quite true that we have introduced words into the Bill to try to reduce that discrimination, but it is impossible, when the crunch comes, for the Government to prevent themselves from favouring Government plant and Government users, from giving them Government steel, and from keeping those outside the embrace of the Government shorter than their own concerns.
During the six months or so that the Bill has been going through the House, I have become pretty familiar with it. I can only say that familiarity has bred contempt. We indict the Bill for a number of reasons, which I must discuss shortly. We indict it first of all because it sets up a State monopoly which will be far worse than any evils which hon. Members have ever imagined could attend private monopoly. We indict it because there is no scheme in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary made a speech on general lines. It was very short and, coming from one with great knowledge of the industry, it was listened to with respect and attention by the House. I would only say that I hope he will not mistake asseveration for argument. He said that in his opinion the Bill would promote production. There is nothing in the Bill, as there was nothing in the discussion or in the Debate, to substantiate that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) will give us the number of times that the Minister spoke during the Committee stage, if he has it there?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Yes, Sir. The Government made 390 speeches, of which the Minister made 131, in reply to the questions which he was asked by the other side.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his information about the 131 speeches. I defy him or any other hon. Member to find one speech on the subject of how production is to be increased by the Bill. We condemn the Bill also because State monopoly has to arm itself with a series of the most restrictive measures that man and the Parliamentary draftsman can devise. We condemn the Bill because there is no Parliamentary control. No Parliamentary control has been thought out. Of course, 1511 Parliament remains in the background, but at this moment no system of Parliamentary control has been thought out.
Hon. Members are quite at liberty to think that I am putting forward my next point for party reasons, if they wish, but I hold it very sincerely and I am going to state it frankly. It is that State control will undermine the system of negotiation of wages and conditions which has been built up for so long. It will undermine, and spell the doom of, the trade union movement in this basic industry. We have two final indictments. The first is: Why 1st May, 1950? That date is too early to be practical and, from a constitutional viewpoint, is too slippery. Lastly, the compensation terms of the Bill are unfair and, in one respect, openly violate a solemn pledge given by the Government.
I will not detain the House a minute longer than I can help, but I must address myself to some of the points I have mentioned. The first is about State monopoly. It will bring evils much worse than private monopoly, for three reasons. The first and obvious reason is that State monopoly is much larger, much more comprehensive and much more powerful than any private combination can be. Secondly, the consumer has no protection. The public have no protection whatever against their own Government. Thirdly, State monopoly will lead to a loss of exports. Let hon. Members face that point. Once State-owned products are in question, they become counters in foreign policy or in political policy. Mutatis mutandis, let us remember, that is what happened to meat in the Argentine. Meat is a government-owned commodity in the Argentine. It is government-owned because that is the natural reaction to bulk-buying and bulk-selling. It is a political counter. If steel is made into a State-produced and State-owned metal, it will follow the same course as meat and will become a political counter. It will lead to a loss of exports.
The second main indictment is that there is no plan—not even a pretext—in the Bill or the Debate as to how production is to be handled and certainly not how it is to be increased. The more ingenuous defenders of the Bill say that it does not mean anything and that everything will go on in the same way in 1512 the future as it did before the Bill was introduced, but in the 95 pages, the 60 Clauses and the nine closely-printed Schedules the Bill is silent on the only matter which really counts. There is nothing there about the volume of production, nothing about the cost of production and nothing about organisation and control. There is virtually silence on all these matters. I must not be unfair. I must say that there is one saving Clause which I must read to the House, the notorious Clause 31, which says:It shall be the duty of the Corporation so to exercise and perform their functions under this Act as to secure that the combined revenues of the Corporation and all the publicly-owned companies taken together are not less than sufficient to meet their combined outgoings properly chargeable to revenue account, taking one year with another.Solomon comes to judgment! What a comfort to have a statutory right never to be able to make a loss—but a comfort only to the supine and inefficient!, Here is no incentive to the energetic or the enterprising. If the prices here are higher than in the rest of the world, if an economic storm is blowing, the Corporation can creep back to the comfortable shelter of this Clause—"taking one year with another." For sheer fatuity the Clause is almost unequalled, although it takes its place in other nationalisation Measures.
However short and inadequate the discussion of the Bill has been, there has at least been time for the Government to deploy some plan as to how the industry would work, but no plan has been discernible even to the most perfervid supporter of the Government. The Bill is not concerned with the future in any way. It is merely a Bill to change ownership and to create—and perhaps properly create—new offences for dissipation of assets which may take place under nationalisation. Hon. Members who look at the arrangement of Clauses on the outside of the Bill will see that what I say is absolutely correct. This is not a Bill concerned with business or industry; it is just politics, and shabby politics at that.
The third indictment I make is that there are in the Bill no effective safeguards for consumers. It is true that in the course of the proceedings on the Bill the Opposition succeeded, by agreement with the Government, in improving the 1513 Consumers' Council, its constitution, its terms of reference, and so forth. What has emerged is an advisory body with plenty of wind but no weapons. Against private monopoly or private restrictive practices the public are able to appeal to the Government—recently we passed an Act which extended and formalised the scrutiny which the Government may exercise over so-called private monopolies—but against the State monopoly the Consumers' Council is the only weapon which the consumer can deploy, and that weapon will be remote, ineffective and toothless. It is necessary for me to repeat that, as a party, we do not believe that the industry should be entirely uncontrolled. Government ownership, no; control, yes. I thought that everyone knew that for 15 years the price list of the steel industry has been under Government control.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I see that the hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement with me, but if he reads the speeches of his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on the fourth day of the Report stage, he will be left in doubt whether the hon. Member, who was conducting a private vendetta with an hon. Friend of mine at the time, realised that the present system under which the iron and steel industry is run is not an "undirected monopoly," which was one of the phrases he used. During the course of the Bill, we proposed to set up a prices board. That proposal had less than 10 minutes' discussion and it was summarily dismissed by the Minister. It would at least have introduced an expert body between the Minister, the Corporation and the consumer, but, in the interests of flexibility, of course, the Minister could not accept it. In this context, "flexibility" seems to be dangerously near a synonym for "autocracy." It is part of our indictment that there is no safeguard to the consumers.
The Government have armed themselves with great restrictive weapons. There is to be no production without licence. I remember saying, when the Australian cricket team were here last year, that when they came again cricket would probably be nationalised and no centuries would he allowed without a licence, and no maidens without a coupon. This is where we are getting 1514 now in this Bill—no production without a licence in a country which is calling for higher production. A peak limit is put upon production. No new entrants are to be allowed into this industry unless the State monopoly, the Corporation, has been consulted, and if they get past that, the licence will have restrictions as to both time and tonnage. All this is to be in the hands of that flexible Minister whose reply this evening we await with attention. He has set up a sort of producers' and consumers' penitentiary in this matter.
I come now to Parliamentary control. The 101 companies have been acquired and put into what the Minister calls "public ownership." It is necessary for one minute to consider what the words "public ownership" mean. They mean the taking away of the property of some hundreds of thousands of shareholders and concentrating it in the hands of the bureaucracy and the Minister. To put it another way, the phrase means changing a disseminated and dispersed power for a very concentrated power in the hands of the Minister and one or two of his advisers. I suggest that such a concentration, which is always bad and vicious, becomes quite intolerable unless it is accompanied by proper Parliamentary control. Does any hon. Member, in any part of the House, in his heart of hearts think that the relationship between the House of Commons and any nationalised Corporation has yet been worked out? All hon. Members know that the answer to that question is "No." Why, even now we do not know what Questions are likely to be accepted concerning the day-to-day workings of the Corporation. The widest powers are taken by the Minister and the question of Parliamentary control has been left to work itself out in a way which we cannot yet guess.
I repeat that State ownership will mean the end of negotiation upon wages and working conditions as we have known it and will spell the doom of the trade union movement in this basic industry.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but does he deny that the trade union strength is largely based upon the desire and necessity for improved wages and working conditions? Does he deny that the principal power 1515 and influence of the unions are the sanction of the strike, which is legalised in this country, and their power derived from the development of the machinery of negotiations between wage-payers and wage-earners, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, is the envy of the world? Does he really suppose that that can continue when the only wage-payers are the Government? How can the trade unions expect to exert the same pressure on an all-powerful and remote Government in Whitehall as they have been accustomed to exert upon the private employer? There are laws which prevent the assembly of large bodies of people in the precincts of the palace of Westminster, but no laws of any kind prevent the assembly of people outside the offices of employers.
§ Mr. J. Jones
A very pointed question has been asked in regard to the relationship of the trade unions. As a practical man, I cannot see why, if it is possible for an entity to be set up by Steel House and successful negotiations conducted therewith, we should not have successful trade union negotiation with an entity set up by this House.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member is really too ingenuous. The Government are the employers in one case and a private combination in the other. In negotiations, however they may be conducted, with a private combination at least there is an appeal to the Government in the event of one side or the other not getting its way in the negotiations. But to whom is the trade union to appeal if it considers that redress and change is necessary and it has not been granted by the Government?
§ Mr. Popplewell (Newcastle upon Tyne, West) rose—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I must be allowed to make my own speech. Of course, the hon. Member realises the point, but I say with every sincerity that the distance which separates strikes—the ultimate power, influence and sanction of the trade unions against the State—from treason is not so great.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to say "rubbish," but he will find it is absolutely true that, whereas 1516 a man can strike without any fear against the private employer, he cannot strike against the Government without breaking the law.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If the hon. Gentleman says that illegal strikes are taking place there, I agree. I only say that where in any one industry the Government are the only employers, to strike against the Government is not far distant from treasonable action. There is no appeal to an impartial Government as there is where the industry is not nationalised. The Government are impartial when they are not engaged in the industry; when they are engaged in the industry, it would take a great deal of explanation even from the hon. Member below the Gangway, to show how the Government are impartial. In this case the Government are judge, advocate and jury in their own case, and there is only one refuge throughout the whole of this system, the ballot box. The Government will find that the public will protect itself with the only means left, that is, the ballot box, before long.
There are two final reasons why we condemn the Bill. Why is 1st May, 1950, the vesting date? It may be that the Bill will not become law until February, 1950. The Government must be obliged by the nature of things to consider the worst date from their point of view, and that is February, 1950. Between that and the vesting date there are only two months, and only the framework of this scheme could be formulated by the most ingenious people within that time. We shall not know within those two months who is willing to go on serving the new Corporation, and what terms they will accept. Therefore, from a practical point of view, 1st May is much too soon.
If the Government think they have any electoral chances whatever on 1st May, eight or nine weeks before the latest date when this Government must cease to exist, why not 1st October or 1st January? If there are no Socialists in power then, there will be nothing to undo; if the Socialists are in power then, they will have plenty of time in which to launch their experiment when they have had time to think how it will work. The baby is bound to be born in the vestry, it is bound to be born on the way to the polling booth or on the 1517 way back, and no one in a few years' time will be anxious to claim the paternity.
Lastly, we condemn the Bill because the terms of compensation are unfair and, in one respect, they break a solemn promise. The Financial Secretary said that the pledge has been carried out up to the hilt. The sword has been passed through the pledge up to the hilt, I give him that. I ask hon. Members to pay particular attention to the pledge, which was this:…whatever the final method and basis adopted, proper allowance will be made in assessing compensation for the results of any expenditure incurred from now onward, on approved schemes of development or rehabilitation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 853.]Now, the Stock Exchange quotations take no account of unfructified capital expenditure, nor do they take account fully of current earnings. If the hon. Member disagrees with that, he disagrees with the Council of the Stock Exchange, who are not a political body and are on record to this effect. If, however, the pledge did mean Stock Exchange values, why did it not say so? Why did it not say, "Do not worry, you can put your capital into this business in the assurance that in a couple of years' time we will take you over at Stock Exchange values in order that the value of your unfructified capital may be contained in the compensation terms''? Why was that not the pledge? I will tell the House why it was not the pledge. It was not what was meant. The pledge does not mean that now, and never has meant that. What the pledge means is, "Apart from any current valuation of current assets, we will add a sum to that current valuation in order to compensate you for any capital expenditure which you may have made between this date and the time when these companies are expropriated under this Bill."
It is indeed wishful thinking to imagine that in this case the Government will honour their pledge. Instead of the pledge being honoured, all that is left is a piece of shabby political casuistry and chicanery. These are the indictments made against the Bill. The only argument put up in its favour by the Government would run something 1518 like this—I hope I am not being unfair: "The industry now works under Government control of prices to make profits for private shareholders, but if this Bill becomes law, it will work only in the public interest."
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member nods his head. That has been the parrot cry throughout the Bill "It will only be worked in the public interest." I find it difficult to accept an argument as naïve as that. If Ministers of this or any other Government could ascertain with precision what was the public interest, what would be the need for the House of Commons, except to come here once or twice a year to pass votes of thanks to Ministers who had run public affairs always in the public interest? The nature of politics and of the problem of Government is that there is great uncertainty about what is 'the public interest. Perhaps hon. Members do not think so? Let me give a couple of instances.
Suppose it were decided to raise the price of steel in order to increase wages; I can imagine some hon. Members opposite thinking that it was very much in the public interest, but would the Chancellor of the Exchequer think it was in the public interest? He would, I think, describe it as inflation, and has, in fact, so described it. There was one instance when the President of the Board of Trade wanted to lower wages and the price of steel in order to help the export drive. Would that be in the public interest?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
How refreshing it is to find the hon. and learned Member really understanding what is being said—for almost the first time. If Steel House is not acting in the public interest, there is Government control of prices and a Government to which the country can appeal; but if the Government own the industry the whole thing becomes one. The hon. and learned Gentleman has mistaken the point.
What about the consumer in all these matters? I do not want to be critical of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, for he is a character we all respect, but he 1519 has chosen to take part in these controversies and must take the consequences. He said on Report stage:The hon. and gallant Member …tried to make an argument that consumer interest is not the same as public interest. hat is something new to me.Later he said:The two terms 'consumer interest' and 'public interest' are synonymous, to my simple mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 282–23.]That seems to me to be a really startling statement from someone who prides himself, and rightly so, on having been a steel worker for, I think, over 30 years. It is an extraordinary thing to hear from an hon. Member who has spent 30 years as a steel worker that the consumer's interest is synonymous with the public interest. Is not the public interest something to do with the producer as well as the consumer? According to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, apparently not. Of course, as everyone knows, the producer interests are, if anything, the most important of all, because upon them and their success depends not only our present standard of life, but our chances of improving it.
We ask from this side of the House that the Bill should be rejected because it sets up a State monopoly of the worst kind. It has no plan for production, and no pretext of a plan has been put forward upon which production can be improved. It restricts entrants into the industry and places restrictive peaks upon the production of those who are inside the industry but outside the Government scheme. There are no safeguards to consumers that are effective; those which are given are mere verbiage. It will undermine the trade union influence in the industry. The vesting date is too early, and the compensation terms are in some respects inadequate and in other respects fraudulent and an open breach of the Government's pledge. Finally, we say that the Bill is a gamble, with other people's money, with the chances of national recovery.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Mort (Swansea, East)
It is always a pleasure to me personally and to the House generally to listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). I did so 1520 throughout the whole of the Committee stage. This afternoon, however, I think that he was making rather heavy weather over what has been described as the Guillotine, as far as it affects this Bill. I should explain the situation in this way. I do not think that the Government used the Guillotine out of an evil desire either to squash discussion or to shorten the passage of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen behind him must admit that if the Government had not instituted this procedure, which I do not like, it would never have been possible for us to get the Bill in the available Parliamentary time.
§ Mr. Mort
Having sat through all the meetings of the Committee and never once broken its silence, perhaps I can give my point of view of what has been described as "rubbish." The right hon. Gentleman used a cricket simile a little earlier, and I shall do the same. The right hon. Gentleman made very poor use of his position as captain of his team. He included the wrong bowlers; in fact, too many of his side gave catches to the Opposition, but instead of being put aside and sent back to the pavilion, they were allowed to continue making these mistakes throughout the proceedings. I am sure that on the next occasion when he is captain of a side which is going through Committee the right hon. Gentleman will realise the force of what I am saying.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the nationalisation of the steel trade means the end of private enterprise. As far as the steel trade is concerned, that is true. We do not retract from that. The real position is that we, on our opposing sides, view industry from different standpoints. To us on this side, industry has other functions to perform than that of providing profits for people who invest money. With our programme for establishing a Socialist economy, we could not leave out of the structure such a cornerstone as the steel trade. It was bound to come in; it must of necessity do so. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in the steel trade we are establishing a State monopoly. I do not like monopolies, either State or otherwise, but we must deal with circumstances as we see them.
1521 How are we to deal with a monopoly like the steel trade except by taking it over? Are we to control it, to give it orders or do what has been done across the water, to introduce an Anti-Trust Law? No, that is not the remedy. When an industry reaches the dimensions which the steel trade has attained—and all credit to them; nobody denies that they have had the finest brains in the world—there comes a time when the Government of a country must take a decision and say, "What are we to do with this? Is it to be allowed to grow still more, or must we step in?"
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Gentleman gave a "sharp glance to slip" when he said that the object of the Government coming into the steel industry was to stop it growing. I should describe that as a distinct glance.
§ Mr. Mort
If I did make a "snick" I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I did not mean that the Government would come in and stop it growing.
Like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I speak as one who has spent all his industrial life in the steel trade. I know the industry from both the management and operating sides, and I am sure the House will allow me to strike a personal note. Having spent over 35 years in the industry, although in a very minor capacity, I feel today a great pride in being able to say a few words upon what I consider to be a great occasion for the steel trade. I lived and worked in the steel trade in the old days and I could give a recital this afternoon of what happened. There is no purpose in doing so, but I could give such a recital, particularly of what happened in South Wales and the warning that no body of men must ever have the power to reinstitute such conditions as those which existed in those far-off days. I am not suggesting, and it is not the argument of the Government, that because this industry has become incompetent or is run by a lot of people who have no consideration for building up trade, it should be nationalised. That is a contrary view and I do not blame 1522 hon. Members opposite for having that view. The Opposition idea is that we must establish Socialism only with the ragged ends of the capitalist system. A man once said to me, "We do not mind the municipality owning the sewers and such things, but to run the trams, oh no."
We approach the matter differently. We say the steel trade has become competent. I have seen all the plants and great credit is due to the pioneers, but now, through the assistance of Governments, it has grown into a perfected organisation. We give them credit for that, yes, but we say that the time has now arrived when the people of this country should step in. There was once a co-operative committee which had to sack a man from the bread round, because he never made a mistake. It was uncanny and unnatural. They sacked him and found that he was not only delivering bread, but running a book as well. There is a time in the life of industries and of people when they may become "too perfect" and when their perfection becomes a danger to the State.
Fears have been expressed about what is to happen. Just who makes steel in this country? Is it the shareholders, the stockholders, in talking of whose interests the Opposition have used most of the time in Committee? I regret that there was not an occasional word about the people who really produce steel. Steel is produced in the plants and will be produced in the plants. What is going to happen when the nation owns this great industry? The people in the industry today, the technicians and the workers, will still be there instead of the shareholders meeting quarterly and reading their "Financial Times." We, the people of this country, will look on the steel trade as a trade, making a great contribution.
I know the men working in the steel industry. Those are the men, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, who volunteered, without any request being made to them, to work a seven-day week when the atmosphere in the industrial world was in favour of a five-day week. Those men are not going to let the nation down. I tell the Government now, and they know they can do it, to put their trust in the steel worker. He will deliver the goods. He does not shout from the house- 1523 tops. The steel worker, as a rule, is not a great talker. This plan has been formulated and passed through its many stages and now the Bill has reached Third Reading, I express my personal pleasure and hope that it will be passed.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
The hon. Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) has obviously spoken with sincerity, but I have the horrible feeling that the speech he has been making is the kind of speech he makes at weekends elsewhere. The hon. Member says that he sat through the Committee on the Steel Bill. I also sat through that Committee as far as I could and through the Second Reading and the Debate two years ago. It is clear that the hon. Member has not understood what was happening or has failed to listen to the arguments which have been made, but have never been answered by his party. It is desperately serious if a critical industry like this is to have its future determined on the basis of a complete misunderstanding of the facts.
I would not for a moment accuse hon. Members opposite of a deliberate distortion of the facts, but I think they genuinely misunderstand them. There are some things which must be explained, even at this late stage. The whole origin of this Bill must be the original mandate in "Let Us Face the Future." If I repeat what is said there and show how it is a completely false prospectus, I hope that hon. Members may change their minds this afternoon about supporting the Bill, or that at least they will go back to their constituencies and talk facts, not things which are completely untrue. The original mandate on which the Bill is based said:
§ "PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF IRON AND STEEL.
Private monopoly has maintained high prices and kept inefficient high-cost plants in existence. Only if public ownership replaces private monopoly can the industry become efficient."
§ That is the basis on which the hon. Member made his speech and on which the Government brought forward the Bill. I suggest that not one word of those five lines I have read would stand up to a minute's examination as being true. These points have been raised and discussed throughout the various stages of the Bill and the Government have completely failed to make their case on 1524 the fundamental points on which they brought forward the Bill.
§ I think it is reasonable to try to get clarity into people's thinking about the facts before we give the Bill its Third Reading. If hon. Members approach the Bill today in any light-hearted spirit as a piece of party loyalty they are carrying the greatest conceivable responsibility. Possibly more than any other nationalisation Bill, this Bill strikes at the fundamental structure of the economic life of our country. Hon. Members opposite should be absolutely certain of two things before they vote in favour. One is that they are properly interpreting the authority they have from the country and the other that what they are doing has some reasonable prospect—I put it as low as that—of being in the national interest.
§ The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) has given a most admirable survey of basic reasons in general and in detail of why we oppose this Measure. I am anxious to concentrate on the wrong basis on which the Bill is founded as exemplified in the quotation I have read from "Let Us Face the Future." That speaks of private monopoly. Are conditions of dangerous private monopoly likely to be flourishing, when 100 major firms and something more than 2,000 firms in all are involved in the production of iron and steel, each working under a system which has the strongest incentive to efficiency? Prices have been fixed, not, as hon. Members opposite have repeatedly said, on the basis of the costs of inefficient firms, but, according to the Import Duties Advisory Committee Report of 1937, where this is clearly set out, on an average of the costs of efficient firms. Does that sound like a dangerous monopoly? Hon. Members may argue ad nauseam, but it is not so.
§ There is another test which can be used to find if this is a restrictive monopoly. Surely one would expect evidence of high prices relative to the production of other countries and rising prices relative to the cost of other comparable materials in this country; evidence also of poor output, or certainly not a steadily rising output in relation to production in other countries. We must look at the facts, because if these charges are not maintained hon. Members opposite have the gravest responsibility if they pass the Bill.1525
§ Let us look at the production figures. We have heard a good deal about the "appalling conditions" in the steel industry; the hon. Member for East Swansea said something to that effect. It must be remembered that this industry had to expand in an unnatural way in the 1914–18 war in order to meet war demands. It was left after the war to face completely uncontrolled competition from low wage countries and even in some cases subsidising countries. It was not until 1932 that it had a chance to pull itself together. I assume that the charge of monopoly, which is so sweepingly made, arises from that date onwards. Let us look at what happened. In 1933 production was seven million tons, in 1936 it was 11 million tons and in 1939 it was 13 million tons. We all know the figures of today; production is running at about 16 million tons.
§ Even those figures of rising output are not necessarily proof. I suggest that the real proof is in comparison with the output figures in the world generally and in other countries in particular. Do hon. Members realise that between 1929 and 1937, the period when this so-called wicked monopoly must be assumed to have been doing its worst, there was a world increase in the production of steel of 11 per cent.? During that period production in the United States of America decreased by 10 per cent. whereas in the United Kingdom production increased by no less than 35 per cent. Does that sound like a monopoly, working viciously?
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Will the hon. Member tell us what was the increase in production in the United States between 1900 and 1929, which he will find to be different from what he now says?
§ Mr. Maclay
I am sticking strictly to this fraudulent prospectus on which the whole Bill is based; it talks about a period of monopoly. I do not think that the United States figures in the period which the hon. Member mentions are relevant. The fact is, I repeat, that during the period I have mentioned our output increased by 35 per cent. That does not sound very much like a vicious monopoly, particularly if one continues and relates what happened in regard to prices. I apologise for doing this, but 1526 it must be done. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite have studied the available facts of this matter before coming to their conclusions.
Let us look at the price position. Right through the 1930's British steel became increasingly competitive with the production of every other country in the world. In Belgium, for example, in 1930, heavy plates were being produced at £2 3s. per ton cheaper than in the United Kingdom. What had happened by 1939, whilst this vicious monopoly, so-called, was exercising its baleful influence? Already by that date our price for heavy plates was 7s. 3d. per ton below that of Belgium. Those are striking figures. Our next nearest competitor at that point was France, and our price was 35s. 4d. per ton below theirs. Those are facts which cannot be controverted, and I hope that hon. Members will carefully study them.
We can also turn to the Board of Trade index of wholesale prices to see what happened in relation to domestic prices. Taking 1938 as a base year, whereas every other comparable commodity had risen in price in 1939, the price of steel had fallen in this country in that year. These are clear facts. It is hardly necessary to say how our prices today compare with world prices. In the case of practically every steel product we are cheaper than anyone else in the world. Against that there is the mandate on which so much has been based, and on which so much talk has been heard. All the charges about private monopoly maintaining high prices do not stand up to examination for one second in the light of these facts. I hope that if any hon. Members opposite deny those facts, they will take the opportunity to do so now or later in the afternoon. If this fundamental reason for nationalising steel as set out in their manifesto is not correct, they should change their minds, if at the moment they intend to support the Government.
The next charge is that inefficient high-cost plants were maintained. I ask hon. Members to consider for one second what would have happened if in the 1934–239 period some of the less efficient plants had been closed down for conversion to more modern equipment. It is a long, slow process. It should be remembered that by 1934 two years of protection to the industry had been available and it was 1527 just getting into the position of being able to take long-term steps to increase its efficiency. There was Stewarts and Lloyds' integrated plant, the finest of its kind in the world; there was Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds' project. But if there had been a comprehensive programme undertaken where would the steel have been which we needed at the outbreak of war. Having regard to the obviously growing need for maintaining and increasing production of steel it is utterly irresponsible to make the charge against the industry that it kept inefficient high-cost plants in existence.
§ Mr. Maclay
If that is a charge against the industry, I can only say that there would have been a far graver charge if it had closed them down and if steel capacity had been even less than it was at the outbreak of war.
What is left of this astonishing prospectus? Only this quite remarkable statement:Only if public ownership replaces private monopoly can the industry become efficient.—Was there ever a more wild sweeping statement without any supporting evidence on which to base it? I do not intend to argue the point at length on the record of other industries which have been nationalised in the lifetime of this Parliament. I am prepared to accept the argument that two or three years is not a period in which one can finally judge the merits of a new system. I do suggest, however, that there is not the slightest evidence in the case of any one of them that the least advantage has been gained for the nation or the workers in this country.
§ Mr. Maclay
Let us first think about the consumers; we will come to the others later. The consumers have faced steadily rising coal prices, which by the end of 1948 had risen to 145 per cent. above the pre-war price, whereas the price of steel has increased only to 70 per cent. above the pre-war price. I gravely doubt whether, treating the matter strictly on its present merits, the miner is feeling that State ownership of coal is the answer to the difficult problem of the relations of management and workers in a great in- 1528 dustry. I do not put it higher than that at the moment.
I trust that I am keeping in Order, as I do not propose to elaborate examples of nationalised industries, but the content of this Bill is to nationalise the steel industry, and I am trying, as fairly as I can, to present the case against allowing this Bill to be implemented. [Interruption.] Yes. I opposed the nationalisation of the mines. I have never thought that nationalisation at any time could be the answer for that or any other industry.
I have examined the assertions in "Let us Face the Future," which I assume inspire speeches like the very sincere speech of the hon. Member for East Swansea. These assertions are wrong; not a word of them is provable. From the time of our first Debate on this subject, not one word has been said which would justify them. I suggest that it is a desperately grave thing for the party opposite to try to pass a Bill on the grounds that they received from the electorate in 1945 a mandate which was given, I repeat, on a completely false prospectus.
The final point is the argument that the Government must have control of a key industry in the country which is so vital to the nation in war and peace as is the steel industry. That argument was dealt with to a considerable extent by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, but there is a point which I should like to emphasise still more strongly. No one will deny that in recent years there has been a steady and effective improvement in the relationship between Government and industry, particularly the steel industry.
I say in all seriousness that in the case of an industry of the type of the steel industry, which is bound to present certain problems with regard to its relation to Government, there are two possibilities. One is to develop a system of relationship which will maintain the best of private enterprise, and at the same time prevent any risk of what hon. Members opposite call action which is not in the national interest. Between the wars I myself felt that we were really beginning to make progress in certain industries towards a proper relationship between industry and Government. We needed better consultation, and to that end it was essential that industries should be organised so that they could consult and 1529 Government organised so that it was competent to discuss with industry.
Of all industries the steel industry had made the best progress in that form of consultation. First, there was the Import Duties Advisory Committee, then the war-time arrangements with the Ministry of Supply and then the Steel Board, and the industry has always said that it was only too ready to consider any further suggestions with regard to consultation. What hon. Members opposite are exchanging in this Bill is a really effective link between private enterprise and Government for a very dangerous experiment which cannot possibly preserve the best in private enterprise, and may possibly run into completely unknown dangers when the State runs such a complex machine. I could have understood it if the Government had taken one deep breath and made another great corporation to run the whole thing. But they are dabbling with a completely new experiment and they cannot possibly know the result.
I would, finally, emphasise one point which has been dealt with already, but I have heard people of several nationalities abroad refer to it, and that is the desperate risk to international relations if the Government of the United Kingdom become the exclusive owner of steel. It is no use disguising it under the old names and the old firms. It will be known throughout the world that it is British Government steel. When our search for markets becomes acute—not only for steel products, but the manufactured products which depend for their price on steel—I solemnly warn hon. Members opposite that they will find one of the most dangerous causes of international friction will be if it is believed that we are, as a matter of internal Government policy, playing about with the price of steel on the short term in order to secure markets against the products of other countries. I believe that may have the most disastrous long-term consequences, and for that and for all these other reasons I would urge hon. Members opposite to think again very carefully indeed before they permit the present Bill to become law.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), who always speaks with such 1530 great sincerity, will, I am sure, find his views respected by this House. He enjoined on us to be aware of the responsibility we shall bear if we support the Government in giving a Third Reading to this Bill. Few hon. Members on this side of the House are unaware of that responsibility. Speaking for myself, I can only say that if I were not to support the Government, I should hesitate indeed to bear the burden which would then be mine.
I feel that the Government are to be congratulated on having brought this Bill to this stage in so short a time. There has been ample discussion on every point that needed discussion. The Government have been most reasonable in their offers to the Opposition to facilitate discussion on any point upon which the Opposition felt that discussion was particularly important. But there has been from the very start, in the words of the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), no co-operation at all. I think it was he who said at the very start that there would be no such co-operation. In the circumstances I consider that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and his Parliamentary Secretary are to be congratulated on the extreme forbearance, good humour, and skill and the exhibition of knowledge with which they have conducted all the stages of this Bill.
The proceedings have shown that the main fight over this Bill will be outside this House. Those powerful insurance, financial and often sinister influences which are throwing their whole weight into the opposition to this Bill, are not relying entirely upon the efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite, gallant though those efforts have been—especially when making a loud noise about the Guillotine. They are relying rather more upon the hope that they will be able to persuade the country to turn this Government out of office at the next General Election, and thereby prevent this Bill from operating fully. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have confirmation from hon. Members opposite that that is indeed their point of view.
The weapons they are proposing to use to this end, and indeed which they have already begun to use, are twofold. They have been trying to show the country, particularly those parts of the country which are not immediately connected 1531 with steel, that all is well in the industry; that the relationships inside the industry are perfect; that none of the workers or the management in the industry want to change the present arrangements. Secondly, they say that so efficient is the industry that it is producing these wonderful records, and it would be unwise, having regard to the great need of the nation for steel, to intervene in the industry at this time. I submit that the most unscrupulous use has been made of these records for party political propaganda.
The fact is, as it seems to me, that were it not for the hope of nationalisation, all the pent-up indignation that there is in the minds of far too many steel workers would take a form which would force itself to the notice of the people in the country. But so great has been their restraint, and the restraint of their unions, and so great is the hope they pin on this Bill, that they have refrained from bringing this indignation to the pitch of industrial dispute. It would, however, be indeed wrong to suppose that those feelings are not present in their minds. Clause 39 of this Bill, a Clause to which I attach the very greatest importance, provides for machinery for the settlement of disputes and conditions of employment and so forth. That Clause, it seems to me, will henceforth be a charter for all engaged in the industry.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
The hon. Member has referred to difficulties inside the industry from a labour point of view, and the indignation about injustices which prevail. Could he tell the House what are these particular points?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Most certainly. Were I so inclined, I could deal at very great length with them, at far greater length than I would be justified in doing in a Debate such as this, where a good many hon. Gentlemen wish to speak; but I will deal shortly with some of them. Perhaps the biggest of the points of indignation felt, particularly by those employed as manual workers in the steel industry today, is a point which incidentally will be swept away completely when Clause 39 comes into operation. It is the fact that so much has been done in the way of increasing supervisory staffs all over the industry at the present time. 1532 Ever since this Government took office the members of the supervisory staffs in the industry have increased out of all proportion to the possible necessity which there could be for increase.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
May I ask the hon. Member whether, with the analogy of the Coal Board, he thinks that supervisory staffs will be smaller under nationalisation?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I could debate upon that very point at great length. I will confine myself to the steel industry. There is no doubt whatever in the minds of those who know conditions in the industry today—and many hon. Members know them far better than I do—that there has been an enormous increase in supervisory staff under so-called private enterprise in recent years, and particularly since this Government came into power. I can think of an instance of two mills in my constituency run by the same firm. In 1939 there was one steel works engineer over the two mills with a resident engineer at each. Now there is the same works engineer over the two mills with the same resident engineers but each man has an assistant. There are two others who deal with overhead cranes and in addition one of the engineers has two other assistants for pumps and the delivery end of the mill. There are now eight engineers where formerly two sufficed.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
Surely the increase in the supervisory staff arises through continuous working in the post-war period and the need to maintain plant which is necessarily more complicated now than before the war?
§ Mr. Erroll
It is in the interests of the working people themselves that the plant should be efficiently maintained.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Of course, it is. The workers are convinced, and they should know, that far more supervisory staff are being employed than is necessary. The same is true with regard to foremen. There has been an increase of nearly 50 per cent. All these matters can be smoothed out under the machinery of Clause 39 in a way which perhaps would have been impossible under the previous 1533 arrangements. A similar position exists in the steelworks furnaces and blast furnaces. There, again, the men never know from one day to another when there will be a completely new set of shift managers installed. These are the sort of topics which are talked about among the workers in that part of the steel industry which is so firmly and successfully fixed in my constituency.
An amusing story is told of a firm which wanted a valve fitter. It proved difficult to find a man. The manager of the local employment exchange scoured the country for a valve fitter. When at last he found one, he rang up the works and was told "It is no use now. There is not a single unemployed man left in the town whom we could put over this man as a charge-hand." That is the type of thing which has been happening. I suggest that the object has been twofold. First, there has been the object of withholding profits from the Government and, secondly, there has been an effort to create a hotbed for breeding Conservative supporters inside the works. There is no doubt in the minds of those engaged in the works that that has been happening. In fact, some of the works which I could mention by name are nothing less than extensions of the Conservative Central Office. Even propaganda is sent round with the pay packet, and junior members of the staff are invited by senior members to contribute to Conservative Party funds.
Another way in which this policy is furthered is by the formation of staff unions. I submit that it is conscious effort by the really high directors of the steel industry—the "steel barons" as they are accurately and conveniently called—to separate the sheep from the goats, the collar-and-tie men from the manual workers. I could quote one instance in my constituency where there were chemists who were members of a union and also members of a staff association. They had resisted all the pressure to leave their union which is generally put upon these men when they are compelled to join the staff association. They paid both subscriptions, but they were receiving less pay than the union rate for chemists. They did their best to act through the staff association to obtain the good conditions to which they were entitled, but the staff association did 1534 nothing at all for them. Then in despair they went to their union. The moment the higher management discovered they had gone to their union, they approached the staff association and promised the chemists even more pay than they were asking for through the union. The management did that through the staff association in order to give a veiled subsidy or support to that organisation which they felt was more under their control than the union.
Another burning question which I have encountered again and again in the short time during which I have been connected with the constituency of Brigg, which has the steel industry right in its heart, is that like so many conservatively controlled affairs the steel industry has been absolutely ridden with nepotism. People say, "Jobs for the boys." Not only has it been that, but it has been jobs for the husbands of the girls in some cases. Nobody has been safe no matter how great his skill and experience in the industry. They might easily be elbowed out—that has actually happened—to make room for some friend, connection or relative of one of those in a high position. I know that it is argued that with nationalisation there will be less personal touch between the management, or the employers, and those working in the industry. I should have thought that with the introduction of the big combines this process had perhaps already gone as far as possible. But I must hand credit to the Opposition for the fact that in the old days when the firms were smaller there was a personal touch. It is important now to set up machinery to maintain what was good in that personal touch without retaining its abuses, such as the nepotism of which I have spoken.
There is a story in my constituency of a firm named Steel, Peech and Tozer which is now part of a larger amalgamation. The story is that a labourer was seen standing leaning upon his shovel for a long time. At last he was approached by a man wearing a bowler hat who said, "My man, what firm do you work for?" The labourer looked up and said "Steel, Peech and some other beggar—I don't know who he is." The gentleman in the bowler hat replied, "Just you run along to that little but over there. That is the office. Get your cards, and tell them that the other beggar sent you." In that case, and in others I could mention, there was 1535 a close personal touch between those who owned the industry and those who really worked in it. All the best element of the personal touch can be maintained, as it will be, under Clause 39. This Bill enshrines the hopes of the industry. We shall be laying the foundation of an edifice which will give all that they deserve to those fine men in all ranks of the industry who have done such wonderful work in recent years.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu). If it were possible to carry the argument to reasonable proof, I would lay a heavy wager with the hon. Gentleman that the nepotism to which he has referred, will pale into insignificance compared with the nepotism which will come with nationalisation. If, instead of facing the future, he insists, as so many of my old colleagues insist, on facing the past, there is a little bit of truth in what he has said. The hon. Gentleman would find it difficult in the industry today to find men in high positions who have not come from the ranks, as I and many others in the steel industry have done. I doubt whether he could mention a single man in a prominent position in the steel industry at present who has not served his time in the shops.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The hon. Gentleman has asked me to mention a name. Perhaps he is not aware of the retired rear-admiral who is at present works manager?
§ Mr. M. Lindsay
Would the hon. Gentleman opposite allow me to inform him that he is a qualified engineer who went into these works, but who has since changed his job?
§ Mr. Edwards
Arguments which were valid 25 years ago are no longer valid today. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have given some thought to this subject seem to base their arguments on books and pamphlets which had some validity 20 years ago but have absolutely none today. All the heads of the steel industry today—in fact, I could mention only one exception, and I doubt if other hon. Members could even think of one—have risen from the ranks, and that is precisely what Socialists always wanted them to do. I 1536 doubt very much whether many trade unionists today are satisfied themselves that it is the competent craftsmen who are getting the big jobs. I hear of a great deal of dissatisfaction, and particularly in the last six months, during which I have been closer to the steel workers than have most hon. Members here.
§ Mr. Edwards
The steel workers gave me a very good time, even in Cardiff, which was more than the hon. Gentleman was willing to do in his constituency. When I went to his constituency to talk to the people there, the hon. Gentleman influenced the local church committee to refuse me the only hall there was in the town for the meeting.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is quite wrong. He is talking about my home and not my constituency, and he is also making the mistake of believing that a Methodist church is a public hall. We never allow political discussions in Methodist churches.
§ Mr. Edwards
An hon. Gentleman opposite has said that he would debate this matter with any Member of another party, but not with a Member who had been thrown out of a party. Well, believe me, it is quite a distinction, because all the other Members whom I can remember in my lifetime as having been thrown out of the party, are now in the Cabinet. [Interruption.] No, I am not going to follow suit; neither have I the ambition. I want to put before hon. Members opposite some of the reasons why I oppose this Bill. There is no need to be offensive about it.
First, there is this question of talking so dogmatically about what the unions think and do not think. When this Bill was demanded, it was demanded by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health at a time when the Government did not appear to have any intention of introducing it. Until the right hon. Gentleman threatened to resign if they did not do so, the Government did not introduce it, and indeed the Government 1537 would not have had it, because the unions had not demanded it. Those are the words of the Government, and they are on record. It is no good hon. Members coming here and claiming to speak for the majority of the trade unionists concerned. I doubt very much whether they could get a registered opinion of a very large proportion of the trade unions concerned in the steel industry on this question
It has never been done before, and the most authoritative expression of opinion in the lifetime of any hon. Member here has shown that it has never been possible to get a complete registered opinion of the workers, and that it can be done only to the extent of some 20 or 25 per cent. of the men. Every trade unionist in the House knows that that is true, and that it is probably an exaggerated figure at that. It is not easy to get trade union opinion on this matter, and I think the hon. Member for Brigg was exaggerating very unwisely in trying to give that picture of men bursting with indignation. I am prepared to say that, if he will take me with him to his constituency, we shall probably find that the numbers concerned are very small indeed.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) that there has been no attempt by the Government or their supporters to justify the claims on which this Bill is founded. Officially, the intention is to produce more and cheaper steel, and the Minister, in his Second Reading speech, reaffirmed that as almost the main justification for the Bill. The Minister said that we could not count on those in private enterprise producing all the steel we wanted t but this industry has beaten all records. Indeed, I doubt whether there is another industry in any other country in the world that has been controlled as the steel industry has been, in regard to men and employers alike, which can show such a record. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary will deny that the management can take at least some credit for these achievements.
§ Mr. J. Jones
The Government have always said—and every Government spokesman in speech after speech has paid this tribute—that credit was due to both workers and managements. We always look upon the men as being part of management.
§ Mr. Edwards
By common consent, the industry as a whole has put up a magnificent performance. I doubt whether there is any industry in industrial history in any country in the world with a performance like that which has been achieved in the steel industry of this country. The Government have never uttered a single word to show how they expect to get this increased efficiency. Everything we have seen so far and all the evidence we have had, show that there has already been an increase in efficiency in this industry, and I do not think that will be denied. If we take the example of the nationalised industries, we see that industries which made profits before are now suffering losses. It may be that they have not had sufficient time yet, but the Lord President of the Council has said that the onus of proof rests upon the nationalisers. In other words, the Government have no right to proceed with further nationalisation until they have proved that it has produced more efficiency where it has been applied. The House has no evidence before it to substantiate that case. We have no reason at all to expect greater efficiency.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to remind him that, the railways, apart from subsidies, and civil aviation, before nationalisation, were both running at a loss? The hon. Gentleman has used the phrase "turning profits into losses."
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. and learned Gentleman always likes to get that point in, but I am not going to argue with him. It would take a long time to deal with that point, and there are many other matters raised by that rather simple statement. The fact is that the Government have nothing but losses to show in the nationalised industries, and that is the only measure of success which we have yet obtained.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
The hon. Gentleman talks about the only producing industry to be nationalised. What about coalmining?
§ Mr. Edwards
Is the hon. Gentleman going to brag about that? The miners do not. The miners say that in the old days at least they knew they had a boss, to whom they could go and kick up a row, with the result that he would get something done, whereas today there is 1539 no boss, but only a machine. The hon. Gentleman should not believe that the miners' leaders are happy about what has happened in the coal industry.
§ Mr. Ewart (Sunderland)
If the lion. Gentleman had attended the miners' demonstrations on May Day, he would have received the lie to the statement he has made.
§ Mr. Edwards
Well, what about Mr. Hall, the Yorkshire Miners' leader? Take the head of the Coal Board himself. Has he not said that the whole thing has to be reorganised from top to bottom? Has not Sir Charles Reid resigned because they could not get the required production?
§ Mr. Edwards
I was saying that the whole case for this Bill is that we should produce more and cheaper steel, but no voice speaking on behalf of the Government, either inside or outside this House, has yet advanced a valid argument to indicate that we have produced more through nationalisation, or that there is any possibility of doing so.
I suppose that the greatest Socialist economist is Mr. G. D. H. Cole; what are his reasons for wanting to nationalise the steel industry? He said that the steel barons restricted output in order to increase their profits. Hon. Members opposite are always facing the past and going back to the 1930's. Of course, one could put up that argument with regard to the 1930's; I put it up myself. Mr. Cole said that we must take the industry out the hands of the steel barons because, when it came to post-war development, all they proposed to produce was 16 million tons. That was no use; we wanted 26 million tons. But, like the Socialist writers and supporters of the Government, he uttered no word to indicate how we are to get that 10 million tons.
I would remind the House of the figures of production. The capacity of our pig iron production in this country at the 1540 present time is 9 million tons, of which we take 2 million tons for export leaving 7 million tons towards the steel tonnage produced last year for home needs. The other 8 million tons comes from scrap, and we are scouring the world for scrap. We are combing this country to get all the scrap we can, and, only recently, we have decided with America how we shall divide the scrap available in Germany. The main reason given by Mr. Cole in his book for taking the industry out of the hands of the steel barons is that we must have 26 million tons of steel, but there is not a word as to how he is going to get the other 10 million tons.
§ Mr. J. Jones
The hon. Gentleman has just made an important statement to the effect that this country has come to an agreement with America about scrap in Germany. Seeing that he is supporting private enterprise, does he suggest that the Second Schedule companies could have gone individually and made an agreement with America with regard to the scrap in Germany?
§ Mr. Edwards
I remember the argument that the party opposite were going to make better terms with Russia than could be made by the people on this side of the House. But what is the use of those trivial arguments? There is no sense in an argument of that sort. How can it help? We are talking about the scarcity of scrap. Has nationalisation anything to do with the agreement with America as to how the German scrap was to be divided? That agreement was arrived at on commonsense grounds. I have never heard such nonsense.
§ Mr. J. Jones rose—
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not wish to pursue a silly argument like that. I am saying that the greatest Socialist economist has led the country to believe that, by means of this Bill, the party opposite can produce 26 million tons of steel, including the few million tons for export, instead of the 16 million tons estimated, but, as I have already said, he does not support it with a single argument or indicate where the other 10 million tons are to come from. There are 8 million tons of scrap today. You would need another 10 million tons to get your 26 million tons of steel, or else you could double your pig iron capacity, and meanwhile 1541 you would not be able to export capital goods abroad. You would want another 3 million tons of coal which the miners are not producing.
No serious argument has been advanced by anyone opposite to justify the things that they have been saying about nationalisation. Let us look at it from the workers' point of view. One of the trade union leaders—an old friend of the Parliamentary Secretary's—said, when I asked him at a meeting to tell the workers what he expected, from their point of view, to get from nationalisation, "Well, when we own the industry, it will be run first of all for wages for the men and not profits for the boss." That was his idea. Now I want to show the party opposite exactly what they are doing.
After all, under private enterprise, you pay a penalty unless you are successful. There is no harder taskmaster than a profit and loss account. You can fool it for a while, but not all the time. I shall always remember when 50 per cent. of my constituents—steel workers—were walking the streets without wages. As a Socialist, I do not take back one word of my criticism of the capitalist system, but what I am saying is that nationalisation is not a cure for such a state of affairs. Fifty per cent. of the steel workers in my constituency were walking the streets without wages, and the boss, too, paid the penalty on that occasion. He paid a very heavy penalty; he not only lost his dividends, but he lost his capital. That is the penalty you pay if you are not efficient, and you pay the same penalty if it is just a matter of bad luck. I remember that Dorman Long's shares were written down from 20s. to 2s.—a 90 per cent. reduction. That was the penalty the boss paid. You could buy all the shares you wanted for 2s. each, but you would never get a dividend. This may not be satisfactory to hon. Members on this side of the House, but I think that hon. Members opposite ought to think about it.
What are you doing now? If when the next depression comes in another year or two, as some people think it will, my men are again walking the streets without wages, do you think they will be happy to know that you have made the boss the first charge on the industry? Today, you are proposing to take over Dorman Long's shares at 32s. 6d., and you are going to give them 1542 3 per cent. steel bonds. But the point is that you are doing exactly the opposite to what you thought you were doing. You did not think it out, and you carry a very grave responsibility. Three per cent. of 32s. 6d. is 5 per cent. of 20s., and you are now going to give to the boss a guaranteed income of 5 per cent. on all his pounds for all time, and, indeed, to his children and his children's children. When those men are walking the streets without wages, will they be pleased with what you have fastened on them—a 5 per cent. gilt-edged security? Where can you find such a security in the world today? By doing that, you are placing a burden on the workers—the people you represent—for all time.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the Government are going to issue stock in payment for this industry which will, in fact, go on earning a dividend for all time? Is he really suggesting that no term will be put to it?
§ Mr. Edwards
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he wants to confiscate it? You have never said so. It is implicit in this Bill that you do pay it for all time; there has not been a single word to the contrary. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he intends to alter it. Does he? He has never said so. He does not deny that it does go on for all time. When you give them 3 per cent. steel bonds for all time—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would not blame the Chair for all these matters; he keeps using the personal pronoun "you."
§ Mr. Edwards
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Hon. Members opposite must realise what they are doing. You are paying for this industry with 3 per cent. steel bonds, and you are going to pay at today's value, and by buying Dorman Long's shares for 32s. 6d. you are giving them 5 per cent. for all time. I say to hon. Members opposite that the men they represent are not going to be very happy about that. It is not part of the Socialist programme to confiscate property, and it has been agreed to pay the full value. In introducing the Bill on Second Reading the Minister said that under this Bill we should get the best of 1543 both worlds. I shall tell the House when we get the best of both worlds; it is when the boss, the steel baron, sacrifices 90 per cent. of his capital if he is inefficient, and when the sort of profits which he has made recently are taken from him and given to the workers, as the Government are doing today.
On a previous occasion I pointed out to the House, and nobody questioned it —perhaps the Minister will question it today if he wishes—that when a man ploughs back into his business 25 per cent. of the profits, 15s. goes in distribution and 12s. 6d. and no less goes to the State—exactly where the Socialists want it to go. The Chancellor takes 12s. 6d. Can we get much more than that? The Chancellor says that we cannot. We are getting that today, and surely we are getting the best of both worlds. I have yet to meet a working man who will respond to any incentive other than profit. Deny that if you dare, you people who mix with the workers. It is now called wages. It is the same thing; it is the profit incentive all the way.
Under this Bill you are harnessing people with 5 per cent. on capital for time. Today under the present system you take five-sixths of all the profits available for nothing, and you are going to pay all that capital to these people in order to get one-sixth more. Does that make sense? You never thought it out, or you would not have done it. You are asking them to lay five to one—
§ Mr. Edwards
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have been addressing so many public meetings recently.
I ask the Minister, if he questions that figure, to say that the State are not getting what the Socialists always wanted. Where does the £500 million come for the food subsidy, if it does not come from this profit? If the Government turn this profit into a loss they will do nothing except impose a lower standard of living. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rot."] It will be rot for the workers if there are no profits from steel. Hon. Members may smile and make witty remarks, but that is no substitute for thought. If the Government supporters had thought this one out 1544 a little earlier, they certainly would not allow this Bill to go through.
§ Mr. Edwards
Let some hon. Member opposite deal with the arguments which I have put forward. They have not done so yet. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has an opportunity. I shall tell the House what his ambitions were and what he advocated in his election campaign. He said that we intended to nationalise the coalmines, because when we owned the mines we should get coal at half the price. He also said, "When we get cheap coal, then we shall show you how to produce cheap steel." Of course, if it worked out that way everybody would want it, but when it works out at two or three times the price, it is a different matter.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
The rhetorical wassailing of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) is very entertaining, but he really should pay regard to facts. If he can bring me any Press report or any document in which I used the words which he is now attributing to me, I shall be very pleased to buy him his dinner tonight and throw in a bottle of wine.
§ Mr. Edwards
The wine will be redundant. I am prepared to introduce the hon. Member to the gentleman who took the chair at the meeting. I am surprised that he denies it, because a good many people in his own district assure me that it is exactly what he said. He expected to produce coal at half the price. That is what a lot of simpletons thought. Of course, we thought that we were going to get all these things cheaper, that production would go up and costs would go down. The facts are before us, and we must face the facts as well as the future. If hon. Members go on living in the past, as many do, and make speeches based on pamphlets and books written long ago, they will lead the country astray. There will be plenty of opportunity to deal with the statements which I have made, and I invite hon. Members opposite to refute them.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
I have always had a good deal of liking for the 1545 hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards). I have never felt any chemical incompatibility with him, but he has come here this afternoon and made a speech which has had very little regard for the facts. For example, he quoted me as having said that when coal was nationalised it would be half the price. Of course, that would have been a fantastically stupid statement for any man to make, and, without over-estimating my own capacity, I am not quite as "barmy" as to make such a statement.
Then the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the steelmasters were being paid out on a basis which assured them 5 per cent. for evermore on the bonds which were issued to them. He has no right to make that statement. The Government would not dream of paying compensation to this industry on the basis of irredeemable stock. I should think that the most these steelmasters will be paid is 3 per cent dated stock, and that in due course the Government will redeem that stock and that will be the end of the connection between the steelmasters and the steel industry. I really must protest against the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough and, indeed, any hon. Member making statements of that kind which can only be designed deliberately to mislead the workers in the industry.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the difference between what he says and what I have said? Will the Government redeem the stock? If the Government are paying 32s. 6d., that is 5 per cent. on a 20s. share. If they redeem it, what happens? The Government pay money for it, and surely the steel will have to earn interest.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member persists in trying to create the impression that the Government are going to pay the steel-masters out in irredeemable stock, carrying 5 per cent. interest. That simply is not true. The hon. Member has referred several times to views he has pointed out to the House on previous occasions and it is, of course, a fact that the hon. Member has pointed out a lot of things to the House. For example, on 28th May, 1946, in this Chamber he had this to say:But the Government have put forward a perfect plan of integration. It is a plan for coal, iron ore, transport and power. and iron and steel. What more perfect integration do 1546 you want in industry than that? I suggest that you cannot do without any one of those things, and if we left out one we would be asking for trouble. We must have absolute control of them all. The Government propose that, and I am very glad they do so. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1056.]
§ Mr. Edwards
Would the hon. Member like to read on in that speech, in which I said that if the Government slips into a bureaucracy, it is bound to fail?
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
Is it not also the case that the proposals which the Government were then presenting to the. House were, in fact, dropped by them as impracticable and that the Minister subsequently jettisoned them?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough was talking about the prospects of nationalisation and was giving them his fullest support. Having regard to the change which has taken place in his point of view on the matter in the intervening period, I suggest there may well be another change in his point of view before too long. I do not intend, therefore, to dwell at any great length on his speech. I note with interest the close proximity of the two hon. Members—the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough I do not know whether the term "fellow travellers" would he the correct term but—
§ Mr. Evans
Never in my life. My political convictions are the same today as they have been ever since I have had political convictions. That is why I am on my feet to support the Measure now before the House.
Turning to more serious matters, the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) spoke of the vagueness of the Iron and Steel Corporation's powers and purpose. I think that would describe the purport of what he said. The question arises whether these powers should be defined by Parliament or whether they should be left to the discretion of the Minister. That is a problem which we discussed at some length in Committee. I want to say quite frankly, that on this matter and on the subject of the vesting 1547 date our deliberations have been tinged with just a vague suggestion of unreality. I say that because—and I said this earlier in our deliberations upstairs—a good deal has to be left to Ministerial discretion because of the peculiar circumstances which attend this piece of legislation. For 40-odd days we have been fashioning a piece of mechanism which we hope will break all records, but throughout the proceedings we have been handicapped by lack of knowledge as to who were to be the drivers of this mechanism and what-their views might be on design, speed and timing. It seems to me that until these people have been appointed and consulted, Parliament would be ill-advised to be too dogmatic about the type of brakes, steering and control which will best serve the public interest.
Here, of course, a dilemma presents itself. It would be a triumph of wishful thinking to expect first-class drivers of the type we shall want to run this mechanism to jeopardise their future prospects by volunteering to drive for a competitive organisation a piece of mechanism which might never start. I think we must face up to that. The electors are the final arbiters and their decision will be known in May or June next year. Much play has been made about the supposed iniquity of the timing of this piece of legislation. I think the Government deserve commendation for the manner in which they have handled this matter. Quite obviously this is the most important piece of industrial legislation which has come before this House. The future of this industry is of paramount importance because it is upon this industry that all the fabricating industries depend for their essential raw materials. It is both right and proper that both the House and the nation should give very careful consideration to the issue; Should this industry be publicly owned or privately owned? The timing of this legislation gives an opportunity to the citizens of this country to accept or reject the Measure which is now before the House. I think the Opposition are, therefore, on very weak ground indeed when they complain of the timing of the Bill.
I am glad that little has been said today which has been critical of the industries already nationalised. I agree with the hon. Member for East Middles- 1548 brough that the end of two years is too soon to judge. Private industry has had 200 years and, if the test is efficiency, then two years is indeed far too short a period in which to judge. The suggestion underlying all the Opposition's arguments against steel nationalisation is that this is a free enterprise industry in which competition freely takes place. That, of course, is a complete fallacy. This industry has been a closed shop, with price and quota-fixing arrangements throughout a whole range, for many years. Indeed, the last free enterpriser in steel was Sir William Firth, and we all know what happened to him. He was liquidated as effectively as are political heretics beyond the Iron Curtain.
I suggest that both on political and economic grounds the case for the public ownership of this industry cannot be gainsaid. Steel and insurance are the citadels of twentieth century power, and no society moving towards a planned economy can afford to concede autonomy to two such giants within its ranks. I do not think it is of any good to deny the political implications of this Measure, and for my part I make no attempt to deny them—nor, indeed, to conceal them.
I want to speak of the economic aspect for a moment or two. The first thing I want to say is this. When the rationalisation, modernisation and expansion of this industry are complete we must have an industry not only abreast of the latest American and Continental technique but a generation ahead. It will not be sufficient to have made up the leeway of the past 20 years of neglect. In terms of competitive force, it must be the most formidable instrument of its kind in the world. It is fashionable to discuss the future of this industry—and I can understand why—as though it can be considered in isolation. It is not so, and I want to deal for a moment with the social consequences of the rationalisation and modernisation and expansion of this industry, which is so necessary in the interests of the nation.
The Iron and Steel Corporation may well decide that it is in the national interest to build two fully integrated plants—two new fully integrated plants—on the ore beds. I think we shall have to concede that in expansion, where imported ore and scrap are to be used, the 1549 plant must be on the coast, and where home ore is to be used, the plant must be on the ore beds. If the Iron and Steel Corporation does as I suggest it may, that, in itself, will present a big social problem. New towns will have to be built, and new houses; all services will have to be laid on; schools and hospitals will have to be built. I want to ask the Opposition whether the steel-masters would consider it part of their functions to carry out this development. Suppose they did consider it to be part of their functions, would they have the facilities?
I want to speak about these new strip mills in South Wales. The modernisation and development of strip mills in South Wales will, when completed, undoubtedly put whole villages in South Wales to sleep. There is no doubt about that at all. This will, of course, create a social problem of considerable magnitude. I think my party has to face up to this. The social consequences of everything the Labour Government do will be measured in terms of human happiness as well as in terms of economics. But if we are ever to recover our economic strength, and rid ourselves of financial dependence on the United States of America, full employment cannot mean employment with one firm in one industry in one town from adolescence to senility.
We have to face up to that fact. The consequences, of course, of the putting to sleep of those villages must be the replacement of the former industry by new industries, or such arrangements as will enable employment, in terms satisfactory to those displaced persons, to be provided elsewhere. Again, I ask the Opposition to deal with this matter tonight, because this question of steel nationalisation cannot be divorced from other major problems; and although I know it is fashionable—and I understand why—for the Opposition to omit any reference to these very important aspects of steel nationalisation, I hope there will be a departure from that course tonight, and that we shall hear something about these things.
There is another economic aspect of this development in South Wales. Because we are building at a peak period in terms of cost, this bold, imaginative, and highly commendable South Wales 1550 sheet and tin-plate project will undoubtedly cost something like £70 million. When I was in South Wales towards the end of last year men concerned with this project told me that the industry would be faced with a depreciation charge of £7 per ton. Because of the fact that we are building at a peak period in terms of cost there will be a depreciation charge of £7 per ton on a commodity which the Americans were landing at Tilbury in May, 1939, at £14 5s., carriage, insurance and freight paid. Subjected to fierce competition from written down American plants of the same calibre, the industry will not be able to carry this depreciation burden, and it may well be that the State will be compelled to write off a considerable proportion of this high capital cost. If the plants are nationally owned, all well and good; but I want to say to this House that if the Tory Party, or, indeed, any Government ever tried to burden the taxpayers in this manner, so that Richard Thomas could continue to draw 15 per cent. per annum, there would be hell upon earth. The citizens of this country would not stand for that—and quite rightly and properly so. I think we are entitled to hear from the Opposition tonight their reaction to the points that are now being put forward for consideration.
I am a complete optimist about the future of this industry, as, indeed, I am about the future of this country. Nevertheless, I think it may be necessary for us to switch our economy more and more to the production of capital goods—machine tools, power station equipment, locomotives, public service vehicles, and the like. This will call for more and more steel. I believe that the world, given a settlement of present international political differences, may well be on the eve of an era of prosperity unparalleled in history. One thousand million people East of Suez are waking up. I believe that the British and the American armies have revealed to the backward coloured peoples a standard of life to which they now aspire, and that the satisfaction of that demand will call for capital equipment of all kinds which, in turn, will call for a greatly expanded British steel industry,
Over and above all these economic considerations, however, I put the effect of this Measure on the crucial struggle between two ideas now going on throughout the world. I do not think that we can 1551 consider this great Measure objectively in a vacuum. We have to consider it—the House has to consider it—within the framework of the political and economic conditions that obtain in this our day and age. Britain's problems, and the measures necessary to solve those problems, collectively constitute a diamond of many facets. I think that this may be the most important aspect of the Bill. Western Union, Commonwealth development, output per man shift, wage increases, penal taxation—these are the stuff of politics today, and no one facet can be judged except in relation to the other. I do not deny nor conceal the political implications of this Bill; not only the national implications but the international implications.
No political party can survive without a philosophy and no philosophy can survive without spirituality. At a time when social democracy can only extend its influence by presenting to the world a virile, practical, inspiring alternative to the bread and serfdom concepts of Eastern Europe, a betrayal by the British Labour Government of the philosophy which gave it birth would have had catastrophic effects not only in this country but throughout Europe. This Bill is a further and inevitable stage in the revolution by consent. I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. I do not think that there is any substantial body of opinion against it in the country. Indeed, I am convinced that the hope of the Tory Party that they will be able to artificially engender opposition to this Measure will be confounded.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
Since his return at a recent by-election, I have watched with interest the progress of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) because I myself, for three years before the war, was hoping to represent that constituency. Therefore, it was with sorrow and surprise that I listened to the very remarkable speech which he made in this House a little while ago, containing, as it did, a number of distortions, half-truths and personal allusions which it is not possible to refute without knowing the individual cases and making inquiries. I can only say that if the hon. Gentleman really believes that a certain steel works in Scunthorpe—and I know to which steel works he referred and I have 1552 known it much longer than he has—adds to its costs by employing more men than necessary, thereby reducing its profits and deflating the Stock Exchange value of its shares for purposes of obtaining less compensation for its shareholders—if he honestly believes that, he is capable of believing anything. The last time he addressed this House on the subject of the steel industry, the local paper carried a headline to its leading article at the end of that week. It is not a Tory paper, for it gave me trouble before the war when contesting that constituency. The headline was "Scunthorpe Disapproves." I venture to suggest that Scunthorpe will disapprove even more this week after the speech which the hon. Gentleman has made.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that after that headline appeared in what is universally regarded in Scunthorpe as a Tory paper—a paper which refuses to publish letters in a contrary sense to that expressed in the headline—I, accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary, held a meeting in the largest hall in Scunthorpe within a fortnight of that speech and, so far from disapproving, a large section of Scunthorpe approved uproariously and almost unanimously.
§ Mr. Lindsay
I should not be very convinced by that, because I know how large that small hall in Scunthorpe is. It is always possible to have an enthusiastic meeting of one's own supporters. I would rather turn to the much more important speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, even if in doing so I shall engender a certain amount of heat in hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member said that in his opinion the Opposition did not make the best use of the time at our disposal on Committee stage. I think that that was a most extraordinary statement. He knows perfectly well that this is a Bill of 88 pages and the hours available to the Opposition for discussion were not more than 87. He cannot hold seriously the opinion that a Measure so complicated and so important as this can be discussed in adequate detail in such time as that.
I now want to refer to something else said by the Parliamentary Secretary whom we all respect. He referred—and the hon. Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) referred to it also—to the bitterness there used to be in the steel industry. I 1553 take it that he was referring to unemployment. I think that it is extraordinary that Labour Members should care to mention unemployment because if any party has a record to be ashamed of with regard to the steel industry it is the party opposite. Not only did the maximum unemployment in the steel industry happen when the hon. Member's party composed the Government of this country, but it is an historical fact that one factor more than any other which restored the prosperity of the industry was the tariff. And the whole of the party opposite voted against it.
I remember that in Scunthorpe in 1930 a very well respected leader of the party opposite, who was President of the Board of Trade at that time, Mr. William Graham, visited the town and said, "What you want is a tariff and my advice to the Government is that you should not have it." That was the considered opinion of a Cabinet member of the party opposite and if he had held a different opinion, it might well be that the tariff would have come a year or two earlier and the shocking record of unemployment in the steel industry would not have taken place. If a respected leader of the party opposite could commit an error of judgment of such great moment for the steel industry in those days they cannot be surprised that we ourselves can have no faith that the present Minister of Supply, who is to have the overriding responsibility for this great industry, will deal any more effectively with the industry in the days that are to come.
On Second Reading I said that that was a very sad day for Britain. One might well think that this is an even more melancholy occasion were it not for the fact that, as the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) reminded us just now, it is the people of this country who will be the final arbitrators of this issue, and I have no doubt which way they will decide. This Bill is, as the Parliamentary Secretary told us, almost identical with that which was first introduced to this House on Second Reading six months ago, and as such it altogether fails to meet the very serious points of criticism levelled against it on Second Reading. As my right hon. and hon. Friends said at the time, there was nothing in the Bill, and today there is still nothing in the Bill, which makes provision, even ultimately, for any improve- 1554 ment in either the quantity or quality of steel, or for lowering its price. Of course, we appreciated at the time that the reason for the flexibility which the Minister was so anxious to have in the Bill was that he had no idea what either he or the Corporation intended to do about the industry. In my opinion the Government have still not the slightest idea of what they are taking on, or indeed what they will do about it.
Let me now make one or two comments upon details in the Bill. Clause 1 (2) makes provision for the setting up of the Corporation and the appointment of the chairman and members by the Minister. I venture to suggest that it is in this respect as much as any other that the nationalisation of this industry would be bound to fail. What the Government are proposing to do is to build up a gigantic monopoly Corporation as vast as or vaster than any other industrial undertaking in existence today. I think that it will be so big and complicated that there are not more than two or three men in the world who have the experience and the ability to manage efficiently such a colossus. But, of course, the Minister has not the whole world to choose from in looking for the man to appoint as chairman of this Corporation, partly because such quasi-political appointments as these are for obvious reasons narrowed down to the comparatively small field of one's own nationals, and partly because others would not take it on. We remember two years ago when the Government tried to get one of the leaders of the South African steel industry to come over to this country to advise them, but he was not willing to do so.
The same insoluble problem arises in regard to the men who are to be members of the Corporation, although to a lesser degree. In practice, the Government's choice is limited to people in this country. Far be it from me to hold an opinion as to who would be a suitable man to be chairman of this great Corporation, but one thing I am absolutely certain of, is that there are not more than one or perhaps two in the whole of this country who would be capable of making a success of it. I am equally certain that, wherever such a paragon is to be located, the Government are not likely to find him, or indeed to persuade him to take on the job if they could find him. I believe, therefore, that there is to be 1555 found at the very beginning of this Bill a problem which the Government have posed for themselves, one which they are not likely to succeed in solving, and in default of which the whole project is bound to fail.
I pass to the second respect in which I am confident that the nationalisation of steel, if it ever takes place, is bound to fall down. Here the operative word is "cost." The one consideration which has alarmed me more than any other when we have been considering the nationalisation of the steel industry is that it will inevitably result in increased costs. I know I shall have the whole House with me when I say that this would be a disaster of the first magnitude to British industry, and would postpone, perhaps for ever, the chances of our national recovery. It is for this reason that we say hon. Members opposite are gambling with the future of this country for purely party reasons, as the hon. Member for Wednesbury very honestly admitted a short while ago.
§ Mr. Albu (Edmonton)
Would the hon. Gentleman give the House some reason for thinking that costs in the steel industry will rise?
§ Mr. Lindsay
I was about to do so. I say that the nationalisation of the steel industry would result in increased costs, first because of the expectations that it would arouse among the workers in the industry. That point was very well made by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) just now, when he said that when he visited steel works and asked the men what they thought about it they said: "Well, if the industry is nationalised, the steel works will be working for the workers' wages and not for the profits of the boss." I can say that I was told the very same thing last October when I went round steel works in Scotland; that is exactly what the men said to me.
There is no doubt that the nationalisation of the steel industry would arouse great expectations of wage increases on the part of the workers, particularly, of course, the lesser-paid workers. As one man said to me, "Look what happened to the miners." He knows perfectly well, and others with him, that the miners have got more money since nationalisation, so the steel workers are, quite naturally 1556 from their point of view, in favour of nationalisation. No wonder the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Maclay) said that he thought nationalisation would "spell the doom" of the good relations now existing in the industry between management and man. Such expectations as will undoubtedly be aroused will have to be assuaged by wage increases. Perhaps if you, Mr. Speaker, had not had your attention distracted, I should have been called to Order for developing this argument on Third Reading. I therefore will not take it any further.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) seemed surprised that nationalisation would result in increased costs. What about the administrative costs under the Bill? What about Clauses 1 and 6, which concern the setting up and functioning of the Corporation and the Consumers' Council and committees? I believe that they will result in very small increased extra charges compared with the wage increases, but I do not think we have ever been told even a global figure for the administrative costs resulting from the nationalisation of the industry.
I have consumer councils on my notes, but I do not wish to pursue this matter much further because it has already been widely discussed. I was glad that the Minister saw fit very largely to accept my hon. Friends' suggestions in the new Clause he very wisely tabled in place of Clause 6. I am sure Members opposite will agree that the interests of the consumers and the question of protecting them has been one of the weakest features in the nationalisation Measures we have had so far. Is there any Member opposite who can suggest that any successful attempt has been made, or any attempt at all, to protect the users of coal, gas, electricity and transport against the continual increases in costs, or that the users of steel will be any better protected than the others? I doubt very much whether Parliament, in getting the annual report which is to be made by the Consumers' Council to the Minister, will have any effective supervision of the Corporation and the Minister's directions to it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) pointed out, it is most important, if these reports are to amount to anything at all, that they 1557 should come into the hands of Parliament while they are still fresh. They will not be of very much value if they merely refer to events which have taken place some 12 months previous. A very good example of that is the first report of the National Coal Board, which was 18 months out of date when Parliament first had an opportunity to discuss it. For this reason, I should have preferred a quarterly or at least a half-yearly report laid before Parliament.
I should like to conclude by referring briefly to Clause 11 and this vexed question of the vesting date. This point has been argued very well and thoroughly during the Committee stage, by my hon. Friends to whose pertinacity and excellent work I should like to pay tribute. I do not want to go over this ground again, but will content myself by saying that if the Bill goes through in July of this year, the most he can hope for, the Minister will have only eight or nine months before the first possible vesting date. The Minister says that this period is enough to give time for the Corporation to be set up and familiarise itself with its duties so as to be able to take over these immense responsibilities on 1st May, 1950. If he really thinks that, I give up all hope for the future of this country. Quite obviously, it is the plainest nonsense that has been spoken in Parliament at any rate since I have been a Member of this House. It will give us on this side no satisfaction whatever if this industry, having been nationalised, is to fail, because if it does so, it will bring discredit upon the nation of which we are so proud to belong, and will cause the greatest possible misery to a great number of our fellow countrymen.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ewart (Sunderland)
It is my intention to touch on one or two points that have been made by Members opposite, but before doing so, I want to say to the Minister that the trade unions and the workers in the steel industry welcome this Bill; it is a Measure they have worked for and advocated for many years, and they have found in it the fulfilment of their hopes and the promises made to them by the Labour Party.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Can the hon. Member give some evidence of the numerical strength to support that contention?
§ Mr. Ewart
He said that only 25 per cent. of the opinion in the trade union movement had been touched, but assuming that 25 per cent. has been plumbed, it is a considerable opinion in favour of or against any Measure. The decisions of the national executive, congresses and conferences of the principal unions in the steel industry have been in favour of the nationalisation of this industry. I found it very difficult to follow the speech of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards). In a letter to the Press over the weekend, in answer to a trade union official, he says that he will accept a challenge to debate the merits or otherwise of this Measure. He says that the trade union official must be wrong because he believes in the nationalisation as accepted by the Government, at the time when the hon. Member was advocating the principles of this Bill.
§ Mr. Edwards
It is also true that the majority of Members opposite condemned my proposals to the party, and so I cannot follow his argument.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to mistake my position. What I said and discussed with Cabinet Ministers was that I could find no justification for interfering with the steel industry with its present record, but that, if they insisted, this was the least harmful way of doing the job without interfering with the structure of the industry.
§ Mr. Ewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) read out an extract of a previous speech of the hon. Member which showed quite definitely that he was in favour of the nationalisation of this industry without qualification, but eventually he turns to these new proposals and says, in his 1559 egoism, that he believes the Government have accepted his suggestions, but then repudiates them because he says they are against the national interests.
§ Mr. Edwards
I believed in nationalisation in 1946 as much as the hon. Member, but the party did not carry through the proposals we discussed at that time. This Bill is nothing like the proposals we then discussed. The party rejected the original proposals and adopted this Bill. We have had experience of nationalising industries since then, and it is because of that experience that I have changed my mind.
§ Mr. Ewart
I do not think we need pursue that matter further. We can leave the hon. Member to justify his position when he meets his challenger in the debate on the North-East Coast.
The hon. Member also talked about the opinion of the workers in the industry. But the hon. Member has never been in touch with that opinion, either when he represented them as a Socialist or since. I base my remarks on the statement, previously made by the hon. Member, that those in industry who took unofficial strike action should have their ration cards stopped, and that trade unions who advocated such action in time of emergency in the post-war period, should have their assets frozen. The hon. Member's Hitlerite attitude shows that he has no authority whatever to speak for the workers in the industry.
The hon. Member argued that the proposals of the Bill were purely academic and were taken from the book of theory. He also said that 50 per cent. of the workers in the industry in his constituency were unemployed at one time. I maintain that the workers in the industry have not based their views on any book theory; they have based them on practical experience of working over the past 20 years. They remember the dismal days of 50 per cent. unemployed; they remember when Middlesbrough was poverty stricken and destitute, when Cleveland, the ironstone industry area, was fed from soup kitchens, when Jarrow had 90 per cent. unemployed who were described, in the words of Mr. Sean O'Casey, as "the dead above the earth."
They also remember how, at the beginning of the war, they were called upon 1560 for concerted action, and how, under the Government's direction, price-fixing and control, the industry not only met the demands of the war but has since met the demands of the post-war era. They have tasted the experience of Government control and price-fixing and they believe in the policy of nationalisation, particularly as it would affect the iron and steel industry. That is the foundation on which the trade unions and the Labour Party have created the structure of nationalisation in this and other industries. The Bill is welcomed not merely because it is a new charter, but because experiences in wage negotiations over the past few years have been put to good use in the Bill.
I turn now to the speech of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who said that the Bill would undermine trade union influence and that it would frustrate the trade unions in their negotiations and wage-fixing arrangements with the Corporation. Clause 39 lays down clearly the terms on which the structure of the future wage-making policy in the industry is to be based and established. It lays down in law, for the first time, that the present structure, the design and policy of collective bargaining, is a guide to be followed. It also refers to certain aspects of health and welfare conditions. In the past, the plea for better health and welfare conditions has been met with the answer that the industry could not afford them. The industry, we have been told, could not afford to look after primary health and welfare necessaries. In particular, the underground iron ore industry has been the Cinderella. It has been neglected for many years. There has been no semblance either of health or welfare services in that section of the industry in Cumberland or Cleveland because, it has been said, of the uneconomic state of the industry. That is a section of the industry, which compared with other sections, has had the highest toll of fatal and non-fatal accidents—
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I hope the hon. Member is confining his remarks to that part of the country to which he has referred, because I should require something far more definite before I accepted what he has said about the iron ore industry and the men employed in that industry in other areas. It certainly does not apply in the Midlands.
§ Mr. Ewart
I was referring to the underground workings of the iron ore industry, and I said so. There is only one mine in the Midlands, and most of the iron ore is extracted from the surface.
The right hon. Member for Aldershot asked how future strikes in the industry would be affected by this Measure. The industry has a proud record. For 40 years there has been no strike. In the underground mining section there has not been one day's stoppage, although the workers in this section went through very bleak and difficult times between the wars when, quite often, they worked for three days and were then stood off for three days. Those men had to seek charity in order to keep going. Despite that there has not been one day's strike. The bitter experience of workers in the industry has taught them that their future salvation lies in complete Government direction and control. That is the goal to which they are working, and that is why they welcome the Bill. The right hon. Member for Aldershot also asked to whom the trade unions would appeal when trade unionism in the industry had been undermined. The answer is that they will appeal to arbitration; they have no intention of attempting to take advantage of nationalisation. They will use the solid, constructive machinery which has been well proven over the last 10 years. I have no qualms at all about the attitude of organised workers towards their trade unions. Trade unionists welcome what has been done in this Bill as a necessary step in our social and economic progress.
We on this side pay our tribute to the Minister, whose good common sense in taking the opinion and advice of all sections of the industry has played so great a part in producing many of the Clauses in the Bill. Not the least is the Clause referring to the Consumers' Council. The Opposition have quite rightly taken credit for improving that Clause and I believe it is one of the principal Clauses in the Bill. The consuming industries will have a say in this council and the workers will have a say by representation on it. The policy which the Government have fostered since 1949, which has created in this country comparatively full employment, with the distribution of the raw materials and the assets of the nation to the priority interests, will continue under national ownership.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I should like to start where the junior Member for Sunderland (Mr. Ewart) left off. He talked about the interests of the consumer, which is the particular interest that I wish to put before the House. I was not on the Standing Committee which considered this Bill, and during the period when it was at work I was abroad in connection with the production drive. I returned in time for the Report stage, and I heard a considerable amount of talk about protecting the consumers' interests. It is strange to me that the consumer has been considered so little under this Bill. During the Second Reading there was a certain amount of talk about the Bill being necessary in order that efficiency might be increased for the future development of the industry and, as one hon. Member paraphrased it during the afternoon, for more and more and cheaper steel.
Steel by itself is of no great value. It has to be manufactured, and the users of steel, which includes the companies with which I am associated, do not feel that this Bill is being introduced for their benefit. Of course, there may be many who approve of it, but they are singularly quiet about it. During my journeys up and down the country I have not met any of them, but I have found that there is universal condemnation of the Bill. Steel is the lifeblood of our industries. We who use steel have had our differences with the producers. We have always had differences with those from whom we buy. Buyers and sellers do not always see eye to eye, and it is the essence of business progress that we should have these differences, otherwise there would be complacency, and that would breed stagnation.
We who buy steel feel that the steel industry has done us well in the post-war years. A number of hon. Members today have condemned the pre-war record of the Iron and Steel Federation. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Maclay) gave the House some of the facts, and reminded us of the very bad period through which iron and steel passed during the world depression. It will be remembered that in 1932, when tariffs were granted, the Import Duties Advisory Committee, known commonly as I.D.A.C., were appointed supervisors to see that the industry behaved itself and did not take 1563 advantage of the public. We saw I.D.A.C. and we had a promise from them that they would rationalise the industry, and when that process was completed all out-of-date plants would be closed down and we would get a more concentrated and efficient industry, which would provide us with still cheaper steel.
That did not happen, and I was one of those who went to see the I.D.A.C. people to inquire the cause. At that time I was working for the Government in certain directions and I was told the reason in private. It was that I.D.A.C. had Government instructions that they were not to close down any of the old-fashioned plants. It was not their decision; it was superimposed by His Majesty's Government, because they said that every ton of steel was going to be necessary when and if war came. When war did come, we were very thankful that those out-of-date and obsolete plants had been retained because even with every ton of steel we could produce we had not enough, and we had to go to America and ask for more. Hon. Members should not blame present managements for out-of-date plants now. There would have been a national reconstruction of the industry had it not been for the war emergency and the special orders of the Government.
Since the war, steel has been the bright spot. Speaking as a user of these materials, I should explain that we keep a very close record of all prices and I have a chart in my hand showing the prices of lead, zinc, fabricated parts, insulated material, brass, copper and steel compared with 1939. Lead and zinc are up really 600 per cent.; copper, brass, insulating material and fabricated parts are up about 180 per cent.; while steel —the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs talked about 70 per cent. but that is basic and we have to buy it manufactured in certain directions—is round about 100 per cent. on the average. We are certainly very grateful to the steel industry for what they have done. The House will understand me when I say that the users of steel have no desire for this Bill which is receiving its Third Reading today. We are convinced that the nationalisation of the industry is not being done in the industry's interests, but as a political measure, as has been 1564 repeatedly stated on the other side of the House. Being a businessman, I am very adverse to mixing up business and politics.
Another point I want to make is that certain promises were made that compensation would take account of the money that was invested in all forward planning and development. I feel very strongly because this has not been done. From my, experience, I can say that a Stock Exchange valuation is not one by which businesses can be bought. Perhaps hon. Members opposite have not had that experience, but in my time I have bought up other concerns and it cannot be done on a Stock Exchange valuation. Certain shares can be bought by that means, because the Stock Exchange is organised to deal with the odd lots which go on to the market. It is not organised to buy up large concerns. I feel very strongly on this point, because I was chairman of the Committee to which was remitted 15 months ago, the task of endeavouring to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in stabilising prices. We were to try to get reduced prices in order that wages might be stabilised.
We know what a difficult job it is to get prices down through the whole range of industry. We found that we had not very much success, so we put forward the suggestion that we might try to persuade industry to freeze its dividends so as to show willingness. We took a lot of trouble and it was a very difficult task, but we got industry to freeze its dividends at the request of the Government, in order to help in the national task.
I am not very popular in many quarters because the Stock Exchange valuation is to be used as the price at which shares are to be taken over by the Government. I listened last week to the arguments of my good friend the Parliamentary Secretary. It is to his credit that he has not done much gambling on the Stock Exchange. He tried to persuade us that profits which are ploughed back into industry are fully reflected in Stock Exchange prices. Well, it is not so, although there is just an element of truth in it.
The Stock Exchange looks askance at companies which distribute up to the hilt and do not put a certain amount of their profits to reserve. A company is expected to do that. When it has done that, and has dealt with its reserves, the Stock 1565 Exchange valuation is based upon the dividend paid. If a company does as has been asked by the Government, and as I persuaded them a year ago, and puts all their extra profits to reserve and uses them in the business, the Stock Exchange reaction is: "The dividend will remain where it is. Prices will be maintained." At some future date when they think that this policy is going to bear fruit and there is to be an increase in the dividend, they may anticipate it, and the shares go up. When a company says, instead of putting profit to reserve and ploughing it back: "We shall put a reasonable amount away and we shall use the rest to pay an increased dividend," everybody knows that Stock Exchange prices will go up.
Directors of companies who put the national interest first are being penalised. As for the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary that they will get gilt-edged—and he made a song about it—well, of course they will. They could have got gilt-edged and put their money in gilt-edged at any time, but they chose to go into equities because they wanted a bigger return. Now they are to be forced, against their will, to get gilt-edged when they want equities in order to get a bigger return. We are told that they must be public-spirited in the national interest. It is very easy to tell somebody else to be public-spirited, but they have suffered.
It came to my mind when I was discussing this question with other hon. Members that I have had to deal with cases in which there was a proposal to take over allotments in order to build houses or a school. No doubt other hon. Members have had a similar experience. I have had a spate of indignant letters. I have had to explain that the proposal was in the public interest, but people have not seemed to take it very well. They have always said that the houses or the school ought to be built somewhere else and that their own little plot ought not to be touched. It shows that the human element is very much the same wherever it is and whatever clothes it wears.
What worried me last week was the all-embracing power that the Government are taking. The Minister made it clear that he was going to be guided by Parliament and that it was absurd to think that this all-embracing power would be wrong- 1566 fully used by a Minister. The right hon. Gentleman will not always be there. We do not know who will be there in future. In this Bill we are giving statutory powers, through the Minister, to the Corporation to use the memoranda of companies to do anything they like or know. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has read out what can be done. We are giving statutory powers and the Minister would not have any check put upon them —so that the Corporation can do anything it likes. When the memorandum of a company is drawn up, the usual instruction, to the lawyers is that they should make it as wide as possible, "so that we are never held back by our memorandum."
Those are the powers on which the Minister has refused to put any limitation. He says that Parliament is the watchdog and that the Minister will never do anything he ought not to do. We have not had much chance with the other nationalised industries of being able to act as watchdog. The Minister of Transport has not given us much help when we have tried to criticise. He has said that these matters were outside the scope of Parliamentary control and that Questions could not be asked.
It is very dangerous to give statutory powers to anyone to do what can be done under the Bill, as drafted. Up till now, the Government have been nationalising services, things that follow on after the primary things. Now we are nationalising creative industry for the first time. We are nationalising the result of generations of enterprise and adventure, of trial and error, obstacles surmounted, financial difficulties overcome. It has been no easy road. This is the reward for all the struggle, adventure and effort that have been put into the industry.
I have been in business all my life, as I have said, except for five years when I was in a Government Department. I can therefore make a comparison. I know what it is like to run a business with colleagues who trust you, work with you and stand by you when things go wrong and in fair weather and foul, and with shareholders who, if you have done your duty by them, will trust you to do the right thing; I have had it, and I know what can be done in those conditions. I also know how difficult it is to get a move on in a Govern- 1567 ment Department. One must not make a mistake or take any risk, because of using the taxpayers' money. I can assure hon. Members that there is a vast difference.
We have been asked by Ministers to adventure, to go out into the world to make markets and to create business to get dollars. It is not really encouraging, particularly when one looks at this Bill and remembers the promise of more to follow. Perhaps the Minister has not heard the story of little Albert. Some of his colleagues may tell him the answer of the mother to the keeper who suggested that, having lost one child, she could have plenty more. That is what very many people are saying today. The mother's answer was: "Not very likely." I believe that the Government are doing a very great national disservice in introducing this Measure for political purposes, when we are living upon American dollars. Remember that 1952 will bring us to the greatest crisis in our national history. If there is not the full measure of adventure for which Ministers are asking today, the blame must to a certain extent be put upon the Government.
We often hear a young man say: "There is no chance in this country. I want to go to one of the new countries." We have often heard older men say: "If I had my time over again I would not stop in this country." I think they are wrong, entirely wrong. There are many reasons, and I often argue with them. I will give the House only one reason. We are often reminded that this is a democratic country. Thank God for it. We are not serving a life sentence. The gentlemen who occupy the Government Front Bench today will not always be there.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
The Bill is probably the last major nationalisation Measure which we shall consider in this Parliament. It has received a fanfare of publicity in the country but the arguments which have been advanced from the other side during this Debate have been doctrinaire in the highest degree. The Opposition like to accuse hon. Members on this side of the House of being purely doctrinaire but the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) gave us a perfect example of the doctrinaire Tory putting forward his point 1568 of view in this House. I am sorry to accuse the hon. Member of being doctrinaire in anything but he certainly was this afternoon.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is quite possible that, like the hon. Member's story, my words have been a little milder than they ought to have been. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) referred to some of his expeditions in South Wales. Part of the publicity on which hon. Members opposite have embarked during the past six months has been to enlist the aid of so-called nonpolitical organisations in order to hold meetings to stir up opinion against this Bill. The hon. Member had an organisation centred in the Midlands called, I believe, the Economic League.
§ Mr. Thomas
The Aims of Industry made representations to ministers of churches in various parts including the minister of my own chapel. The organisation said, "We are an entirely nonpolitical organisation, and we just want to hold a nice general meeting to discuss the aims of industry." The hall was let to it and it paid the fee in advance. It then produced the speaker, the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough, who was to speak on the nationalisation of steel. That is not the end of this remarkable story. One night I had a telephone call at my house from that die-hard Tory newspaper, the "Western Mail," telling me that the hon. Gentleman was posting a letter to me inviting me to debate with him, and the "Western Mail" wanted to know in advance what my answer to him would be. I gave them an answer, and they asked if they should publish it, and I said, "No, not that one." I wish they had published it. If the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough is fair, he will tell the House that in South Wales he had a hostile reception when he tried to oppose the nationalisation of steel in the Rhondda and in Cardiff.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I am glad to take this opportunity of correcting the hon. Member. On the contrary, my first meeting was right in the lion's den at Ebbw Vale and while it was a very cool 1569 reception, there was a very warm ovation at the end. Other meetings I had were very well attended and the people were more willing to listen at the end than at the beginning. It is quite wrong to say that I had a bad reception. The only rowdy meeting was in Cardiff at which there were 1,500 people.
§ Mr. Thomas
That is remarkable. I know the hall in which the hon. Gentleman spoke at Cardiff. It is the Cory Hall, Cardiff, and it holds 900. There is no doubt that in South Wales at least the Bill is welcome. It is an indication that the Labour Party are keeping faith with the people. We are fulfilling our pledged word, and the steel workers of Cardiff are hoping that this Measure will not be delayed too long in another place.
§ Mr. Maclay
I believe that the hon. Member was present when I spoke. Can he honestly say that his party is fulfilling its promise to the electors? I produced arguments to show that the whole Mandate was completely "phoney" from beginning to end.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of a speech he made upstairs during the Committee stage. He could not recall what he had been saying and when he drew this to the attention of the Committee, the Chairman said that he had also forgotten what the hon. Member had been saying. I have not forgotten what the hon. Gentleman said today but I entirely disagree with the basis of his argument. I believe it was perfectly clear in 1945 that we stood for the nationalisation of the steel industry, and now we are embarked upon the fulfilment of our pledged word.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) raised the question of the shortage of gifted people to serve on the Corporation. He suggested that there were only one or two men in the entire world who were able to assume the responsibility of that job. Obviously he did not think much of some of his right hon. Friends who have had experience in industry. It is fantastic to suggest that the Iron and Steel Federation would collapse if two of the men who are at present at the helm were to disappear. Industry produces its leaders just as does the world of politics, the world of art and the world of science.
1570 The Bill is another step on the way to full industrial democracy in Great Britain. There was nothing democratic about the old system. There was a man with a whip, and if people wanted to fight back they were called the enemies of society. However, I happen to have lived amongst the people. Hon. Members opposite must not forget that even the youngest of us on this side of the House have memories which could make us bitter against the system which they have defended and out of which their friends in the country have not done too badly. We have seen our own people held back and we now find that this Bill will give the steel workers new rights in industry.
The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) complained that the Bill had not received the discussion which it might have had upstairs. Some of us were very quiet upstairs. We spoke but little in order to give the Opposition their full opportunity to put forward the points which they desired, and the Guillotine system was so applied that the maximum of time was given to each of the major points with which the Opposition wished to deal. I earnestly hope that this Bill will not be delayed too long before it becomes an Act, and I rejoice that it has been my privilege to speak in support of this Third Reading.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) certainly on the Committee stage allowed us a full measure of time, and only this evening has given us his somewhat passionate and emotional views on the nationalisation of this industry. In dealing with such a matter of fact as the nationalisation of an industry, it is impossible for me to reach those heights of delicate emotionalism to which the hon. Member customarily ascends in this House, and so I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not follow his disquisition.
When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport was promoted to be the Minister of Supply—I am sorry that he has just had to leave the Chamber —we all expected an ingenious Bill to nationalise the iron and steel industry, and certainly the method which the Minister has selected is extremely ingenious. It has a two-faced merit about it because the method selected, namely, to form a holding company to be the sole 1571 owner of the shares of a large number of companies specified in the Third Schedule, enables the Minister and, indeed, the Government and their supporters, to say to those who are worried about the possibility of dislocation in the industry that nothing is being done to change the nature of it.
On the other hand, if the Left wing Members of their party demand more, the Minister can turn round and say, "By this Bill we get a finger in every pie. With this Bill we are able to run a Trojan horse into every stronghold of the capitalist system." The Minister ingeniously gets the best of both worlds, and it is interesting to speculate on the son of a great capitalist exercising his brains, talent and ingenuity to devise so clever and diabolically ingenious a system of expropriation as this for this great industry.
The Bill proposes in Part I to set up a Corporation. We have preferred to call it a board because it is to be nothing more, so we are told, than a holding company for the shares of the 101 publicly-owned companies. But it is impossible to believe that this Corporation will be nothing more than a small holding company because already, during the discussions on this Bill, it has become clear that the holding company will have many additional duties other than those of a normal holding company. We have been told, for example, that development work is to proceed much more rapidly. There are to be new and expansive development plans. How are these development plans to be initiated? How are they to be controlled, coordinated and evolved? It can only be done by the Corporation employing a considerable staff. How are the complicated accounts to be finalised? How is the balance to be achieved, "taking one year with another"? That can only be done by a small army of accountants if the complicated accounts of 101 publicly owned companies are to be reviewed, all to be brought to their own balances—
§ Mr. Erroll
As my right hon. Friend has suggested, there will need to be some palmists and astrologers on the staff as well if a proper balance is to be achieved. How are the dividends to be decided 1572 upon for all the publicly-owned companies without a great measure of investigation and detailed work by the Corporation? Are we, indeed, to witness the surprising possibility of the British Iron and Steel Federation perhaps remaining in existence and giving its assistance to the new Corporation once the Bill is through? It would indeed be a curious paradox if one were to see such a thing happen. Many of the centralising functions of the industry are performed today by the Iron and Steel Federation, and I cannot see how the new Corporation, if it ever comes into being, will be able to function without a similar centralising machine.
Such a central organisation may be all right in a system of competition and private ownership such as exists in the industry today, but it will be different in a national monopoly because nobody need care very much. If one no longer has control of dividend policy, it is surprising what a difference it can make to the virility of a company. The Government will take away one of the most important aspects of control which the board of a company can possess, namely, control of financial policy. That will take a great deal of the zest, the enthusiasm, and the desire for efficiency out of the managements of the publicly-owned companies.
We have been assured by the Minister on a number of occasions that nothing is to be changed; the boards of directors will remain as well as the executive managements below them. At the same time a great measure of the independent responsibility of those boards of directors will be taken away and transferred to a large block of offices in London or a large country house, maybe in the Midlands. We have heard little about the way this Corporation will work, either because the Government have not thought it out at all or because they dare not say in advance what a cumbersome bureaucracy they must inevitably create.
In the meantime, management at all levels will be in a state of doubt and disillusionment. It will not know who its new masters will be. It will not know what plans can go ahead and what must be restricted. Hanging over the board of every company are the vicious penal Clauses of Part II of the Bill, which is designed to prevent dissipation of assets 1573 but displays that same diabolical ingenuity and insight which stamps the Bill with a certain distinguished authorship.
Instead of the great development which hon. Members opposite wish to have, we shall have a period of stagnation in this industry if the Bill goes through, if only because of the new loyalties and the new chains of responsibility which will have to be sorted out. It is plain that there is no real development plan for this industry other than that which the industry has evolved already. The Government have on no occasion said what they would do to increase steel production, what they would do to raise output to that level to which an undistinguished professor of economics has said it should be increased, namely, to 26 million tons a year. The Government have certainly not said how they would sell 26 million tons, yet the shortage is rapidly being overtaken by the present rate of production.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) asked the Opposition to deal with certain propositions. While I cannot deal with them all, I will take up the problem of the large integrated plant. Of course, there are great difficulties as one closes down small, old plants and builds up large new ones. I venture to suggest, however, that that phase of the integration of the steel industry is probably drawing to a close, and while one may point to difficult examples in the past, I doubt if many more are likely to occur, if only for the reason given by the hon. Member for Wednesbury, that the new plants are located on the coast rather than on native ore beds, with the exceptions in Northamptonshire. I doubt, therefore, whether that problem which the hon. Member poses is likely to arise to any very great extent. Even if it does, what is the Government's remedy for that dilemma? The Government have been singularly silent on this matter, and it must be remembered that this difficult development has nevertheless been satisfactorily achieved in the past 15 years with the industry independent of, but nevertheless working with, the Government of the day.
The Corporation, of course, is not to be sole master of its own affairs. Throughout the Bill, the Minister retains very wide powers of his own. He 1574 possesses a Ministerial discretion out of all proportion to the responsibilities which Parliament should give him. He should have sought the minimum powers necessary for the efficient execution of his responsibilities, instead of which, whenever he has been confronted by some especial vagueness in the Bill, he has appropriated to himself considerable new discretionary powers and then has blandly assured us that Parliament would be able to have its say. All this reveals such a difference in outlook.
Ministers and Government supporters seem to think that because a person has a say, that is the same thing as having an effect. Ministers seem to treat consumers' councils as safety valves where steam may be blown off. They do not seem to treat consumers' councils as what they should be but, of course, never can be—effective weapons for putting things right. This they never can be by their very nature. We have only to look at what is, perhaps, the oldest consumers' council of all—and in this I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) will not take me amiss; I refer to the Post Office Advisory Council. I wonder how many people bother to write to that consumers' council when their letters arrive late? It is not the fault of the distinguished members who make up the Council, of whom one is sitting behind me now. It is the fault of the system that an advisory councilor consumers' council, to use the modern nomenclature—is a quite inappropriate method of gettings things put right, which is a very different thing from having a say.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
The efficiency of an advisory council, as I understand it, depends upon the responsible Minister at the head acting on the advice given to him by the Council.
§ Mr. Erroll
That is very true. Therefore, it scarcely surprises me that the Post Office Council have been able to make so little progress in the last couple of years.
§ Sir P. Hannon
This is really taking liberties with the progress of this Debate. The Post Office Council can give a very good account of themselves at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am sure that the Council does its best, but it is impeded by a very simple Minister.
Then we are told that the Consumers' Council which is to be set up in Part I of the Bill is to have workers' representation on it so that they may have their say, which is another example, although a mild one, of "Jobs for the boys." I suggest that a worker in one of the consuming industries is not an appropriate person to have on a consumers' council. In industrial production men must work as a team and each man should have his job, just as in a game of football one must have not only the captain, but the goalkeeper and the forwards as well. It is no good telling everybody to kick the goals and having nobody to save them.
§ Mr. Erroll
Each man to his job. In our modern industrial technique the type of steel required is specified by the engineers, or the draughtsmen, and inspectors at the works make sure that steel of the correct specification is delivered, but it is no part of the job of the lathe operator or the welder to go along to a Consumers' Council and waste everybody's time. If he wishes to go in for that class of work, let him become a materials inspector.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the lathe operator is probably the man who knows more about the quality of steel than anybody else?
§ Mr. Erroll
I should think, in many cases, exactly the reverse; that in a modern machine shop, provided the steel is to specification, the lathe operator does not need to know what is the exact quality or why that particular quality is being chosen. He certainly does not have the technical knowledge to be able to decide whether steel which may deviate a little from specification is acceptable or not, although those small deviations of quality might most properly be the subject of discussion in a Consumers' Council. The right people for Consumers' Councils are the materials inspectors in the consuming factories.
§ Mr. J. Jones
Does the hon. Gentleman regard metallurgists, to whom he refers, as not being workers from whom 1576 representation could be made to the Consumers' Council?
§ Mr. Erroll
The hon. Gentleman can broaden the word "worker" indefinitely, but the commonly accepted definition of "worker" is a manual operative.
§ Mr. Erroll
If what is meant is that there should be technicians from the consuming factories, I have no quarrel, but I strongly suspect that what many hon. Members opposite really mean are chaps from the shop floor who want to have an easy afternoon off sitting round some consumers' council's table.
§ Mr. Erroll
I have every right to say it. It is just what will happen, and I am not going to be dictated to by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes).
I now want to turn to Part II of the Bill, which deals with compensation, because I do not think that any review of the Bill should pass without some reference to the completely irresponsible attitude displayed by hon. Members opposite towards the issue of compensation. I wonder how they would like it if their property was being taken away and they were not properly paid in compensation? It is very good fun to take away other people's property and not pay enough for it—it is possible to put forward all sorts of specious justifications—but it is quite wrong to select the marginal prices which Stock Exchange values represent at present, particularly after the market has been rigged by a policy of voluntary dividend limitation. That is what it amounts to—rigging the market to keep prices down, so that one can get these businesses on the cheap. It is a mean trick and it will redound against hon. Members opposite; it will be remembered for a very long time indeed.
It is particularly significant that when the Argentine Government proposed the same basis of compensation for the 1577 British railways in the Argentine the British Government refused to accept that as an equitable basis for compensation. Only the British shareholder has to put up with this type of injustice. Stock Exchange values have never been accepted as a proper basis for compensation. It may well be that they represent the price agreed between a willing buyer and a willing seller for a small amount of stock, but the shareholders in the iron and steel companies are not willing sellers; they do not want to sell out, nor do they want to get compensation stock. If they had wanted Government guaranteed stock they would have bought some gilt-edged security which already was available, but they did not want that; they wanted a share in the equity of the steel industry, and they are now being deprived of that right as well. They are not to be allowed to share in the risks, the profits and losses of the steel industry.
Finally, there is the breach of faith in the matter of compensation for capital expenditure on development works. I well remember the previous Minister of Supply making his announcement in the House in 1946, when he said that a full and proper allowance would be made for any sums expended on development work. It is quite obvious to me that what he had in mind was a similar statement made a few months previously by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to compensation to the coal industry for current expenditure on new developments in the coal mines of this country. He never had in mind the basis of compensation by Stock Exchange values, and it is an ingenious twist on the part of the Government to suggest that Stock Exchange values can adequately reflect, and do adequately reflect, the amount of money being spent currently on development schemes. Everybody knows that it is not so and it is a thoroughly dishonest piece of work that we see perpetrated here today.
Several references have been made by hon. Members opposite to the mood in the industry and to Part V of the Bill, which refers particularly to machinery for settling terms and conditions of employment. We have frequently heard, and we on the Committee heard until we were tired, the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the workers of the industry were doing this grand job of work in 1578 the hope of nationalisation. Will they keep up the grand job of work after the industry has been nationalised, because the coal miners have not been doing So?—[HON. MEMBERS: "They have."] They have not been working hard after nationalisation, so why should the workers in the steel industry? Ministers know well that it is not only a matter of hard work by grand men which has produced this record output.
There is far more to it than that—the conversion to oil-firing for example, which has made greater output possible. Plant has also been kept running longer, plant which otherwise would be scrapped, but, by careful maintenance attention, careful planning and risk-taking by the executives, it has been kept in commission longer. Then we must not forget the sacrifice of many special qualities of steel and that many sizes were sacrificed because the Government required tonnage production above all else. It is not only the grand work of grand men to which the Parliamentary Secretary has been referring; a lot of other people have contributed.
§ Mr. J. Jones
I said once before today that I defy anyone in this House, particularly hon. Members opposite, to find any speech of mine in this connection where the word "management" has not been used along with the word "men."
§ Mr. Erroll
It is very good to have the Parliamentary Secretary's statement to that effect. I must say, however, that I think there are plenty of men who very much resent being labelled as in favour of nationalisation. The Parliamentary Secretary may surround himself with "yesmen" when he goes to the various factories, but the Minister had a very different reception when he went to the North-East coast nearly a year ago. He did not get the applauding audiences from the steel workers which he expected when he spoke of the nationalisation of iron and steel. We did not hear so much about that particular meeting nor the other meeting which was cancelled because he did not want to face the music. I think the Parliamentary Secretary should do a little better and not brag so blatantly about knowing all the views of all the men in the industry. There are plenty of grand men in that grand industry who keep their mouths shut because they might 1579 say some very rude things to the junior Minister of Supply if they opened them.
I protest also about hon. Members opposite saying all the time that they know everyone in the industry is in favour of nationalisation. Have they taken steps to seek out those who are not in favour? They spend time forming little mutual admiration societies but I challenge any hon. Member opposite to say whether he went to seek out opposition. The only man who may have done so is the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), in that quaint way of his, by witch-hunting around the blast furnaces for naughty Tories who put improper pamphlets in pay-packets. Really no one does that but Tories. Shop stewards, of course, never indulge in propaganda. The hon. Member did himself less than justice. After all, he did win a by-election.
It has been said that this is a political Measure and that is said by hon. Members on all sides, as indeed it is a political Measure.
§ Mr. Erroll
On both sides it has been said that this is a political Measure. With that I am in full agreement, and it will have most serious political consequences for the party which is determined to make the Bill an Act.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Erroll) because I think his first introduction to the steel industry was to the same firm on the North-East, where I had my first introduction, and I dare say he was taken round by the same person who was certainly not one of the workers if I may use that term, but one of the executives of that firm.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member but of course he is quite wrong. My first introduction to the steel industry was when I was 11 years old. I had another when I was 16, and I have seen the industry in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, South Africa, Canada and the United States. It just happens that my last contact was the first contact made by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd).
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am quite prepared to accept that. I think the hon. Member 1580 made a most unfortunate reference in his speech when he more or less inferred that the ordinary worker in the industry was quite incapable of taking a proper place on a Consumers' Council. I think one of the advantages of this Bill is that it will enable the most humble person in the industry to rise to places hitherto barred to such persons. Speeches of hon. Members in the Opposition have followed pretty much a pattern. First there has been the argument that the Opposition did not have time on the Committee stage or elsewhere to debate this matter properly; then there was the view that vesting date was too soon; and finally there was a lot of emotion on the terms of compensation and reference to some pledge which was given, and which it is alleged was not fulfilled.
I shall respect the figures I gave in an interruption to show that we on this side of the House did everything we could to enable hon. Members opposite to speak on anything on which they desired to speak on Committee stage. There were 700 speeches by hon. Members opposite to 390 speeches from our side of the Committee. The Front Bench of the Opposition—four main speakers—made 269 speeches; for all Opposition spokesmen the average was 35 speeches each, and on our side, the Front Bench made 210 speeches replying to the points put up from the Opposition and the overall average was 12.2 each. If the Opposition had planned their work properly, instead of each Front Bench speaker speaking on each Amendment and repeating the argument one after the other, they could have got through more Amendments than they did. This is clearly proved by their tactics on the Report stage, for when they wanted to get to compensation on recommittal they disposed of 60 Amendments in under three hours in order to get back to the ever-recurring demand for more adequate compensation.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) is here. I still look upon him as an hon. Friend in spite of the fact that we disagree on this Measure. I am glad to see him here. I thought it would have been better if he had been here on Second Reading and also if he had done his best to get on to the Committee because he might have helped to improve the Bill with his knowledge. Instead of that he 1581 has chosen to follow the course of stumping up and down the country trying to work up opposition to this Measure. In spite of the superficial enthusiasm he has created, he must feel a very lonely person tonight. Not only has he, by his own attitude, cut himself off from his own party, but he has not received the enthusiastic support of the party opposite. I commend him for keeping his independent position when one compares it with the action of another hon. Gentleman who left his party for the same reason and very rapidly worked his way into another party.
Tonight my hon. Friend told us of a number of what I might call private conversations, either with Cabinet Ministers or leaders of the iron and steel industry, from which he drew deductions that this Bill was the result of Left Wing pressure or was not wanted by the trade unionists concerned. I do not think that we can place much credence on reported conversations with other people, especially as meetings of the Cabinet are secret. I think it is true to say that throughout the country there is not much feeling about this Bill, but on Tees-side, mainly due to my hon. Friend, the local Press and the local trade unionists, it is a live issue and it has been kept going for the past two or three years, during which period my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough has gradually changed his position from that of 1945 when he supported the Government's programme.
Here I have an extract from a newspaper of 18th June, 1945, in which my hon. Friend refers to how the steel ring's grip nearly robbed us of a big contract. He is probably familiar with the article in the "Daily Mirror" of that time, to which I am referring. He is reported as having said that the difference between the American price and the British price was largely explained by the vicious ring practice in this countrywhich makes an efficient steel plant add a quota per ton to its prices to compensate inefficient plants.That is a very good reason why this Bill has been forthcoming, and is one of the reasons why he supported nationalisation in 1945.
He has gradually changed his mind from supporting a scheme whereby the Government should own all the share 1582 capital to an attitude of downright opposition at the moment when we have before us the scheme which he then advocated. His only reason is that in his opinion nationalisation has failed; I think I am being fair in saying that. The only test of that which we have at the present time is the coal industry. It would be a very rash man indeed who, when for the first time since the war, we have increased the entry into the industry, when our rate of production per man is higher than it was before the war, when we have made the best recovery in Europe, when we have now wiped out the deficit of the first year's working of the National Coal Board, and when we have definitely got a better spirit, would say that that was more than a very feeble reason for changing one's views about the steel industry.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
In my speech quoted the greatest authority on coal production in the world, Sir Charles Reid. A few days after I left the Labour Party—and it is wrong to say that I left the party, I was turned out, I never chose to leave the party—Sir Charles said he was leaving his job because whatever we did, in spite of the 50 per cent. increase mechanisation, we still could not get more coal. May I also add that the Lord President of the Council laid it down that we were to leave 80 per cent. of our industries under private enterprise and that the onus of proof was on the nationalisers? Where is the evidence that nationalisation succeeds?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
The answer is that even if the Conservative Party came back to power, they would not be willing to de-nationalise the industry; presumably my hon. Friend would.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I think that all the figures are against my hon. Friend.
Turning to another reason why I feel that we must have this Bill, I would mention my hon. Friend's reference to the period when 50 per cent. of the insured population of Middlesbrough were walking the streets, out of work. He says that in that depression the boss lost as well. I am not disputing that. Of course the boss also lost. But the fact he mentioned is of the greatest social consequence, and we cannot ignore this 1583 grave social consequence of 50,000 people having been unemployed; that must be our paramount interest. That is surely one reason why we should have nationalisation. My hon. Friend said that if a depression comes again in our economy, and he thought there were signs of it, these men would again be out of work, but that the boss would not lose his capital and interest. Surely, if the Government are in control of this industry, we can see to it that by priming the industry with adequate supplies and funds, we can keep it in production? We need what the steel works produce. That is the Socialist remedy for any unemployment and depression which comes. I should have thought that an overwhelming argument in favour of the Bill.
I turn to the speech of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who complained that this Bill replaced a private monopoly by a State monopoly which was all the more evil because no new entry to this industry was to be allowed. When, in the past 20 years, has there ever been any new entry to this industry which has not been sponsored by the Federation itself? Anyone who reflects on Jarrow and Ebbw Vale has sufficient proof to demolish that argument. The right hon. Gentleman is against the Bill because he says that nowhere in it is there provision for adequate Parliamentary control. The Bill contains case after case in which the Minister can give specific directions to the Corporation, to this body or that. Each one of these directions can be challenged and discussed in this House. It is taking a pretty poor view of Parliament to suggest that with all these provisions it still cannot find means of making its views felt. If a Member is prepared to persist and is not able to get a Question on the Order Paper, he can still write to the Corporation and get an answer, which is something that the ordinary person could not do when the industry was under private enterprise.
We have dealt pretty exhaustively with the point as to whether 1st May is a reasonable date. Provided that we get the Bill this Summer—and it is in the hands of the Opposition whether it passes through the other place in decent time—we shall have ample time in which to put the Iron and Steel Cor- 1584 poration in order before 1st May. The right hon. Gentleman completely ignored the fact that the Minister has discretion, if things are not ready in time, to delay the vesting date by any period up to 18 months.
The whole future of our industrial setup will be laid down in the next two or three years. We cannot build a steel plant now and scrap it in five or 10 years' time; it has to last a long time. It is essential that we should get the conditions right to begin with, that we should get the right relationship between management and men and between the industry and the consumer. I believe that this is being done by the provisions of Clause 39 and those which establish the Consumers' Council. The future of this industry will depend upon the speed of re-equipment. We all know that one-third of the equipment is obsolete through one cause or another. We all know that the industry's own plan for re-development will bring about major social upheavals in many parts of the country. We do not know whether Skinningrove or West Hartlepool will be closed down or not. If either of them is closed only the Government can be responsible for looking after the lives which will be involved there.
I would enter a warning. Because we take over and this Corporation takes over, that fact does not mean that we shall immediately get increased production. The take-over will probably coincide with a breakdown of large parts of the machinery in the industry. It cannot be kept geared up through the war years and later with obsolete equipment and be expected to go on for ever. The breakdown will come some time; it is quite likely that it will come fairly soon. We must maintain adequate and increasing supplies of scrap. That is not at all easy at the present time. We must maintain adequate supplies of coke. It may be that if by any failure in any of these three parts, there might be some diminution of production, that would immediately be laid at the door of nationalisation. It would be said that it failed because it was nationalised, whereas it would have failed in any case.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Has the hon. Member taken into consideration the new plant in South Wales which is coming into operation?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am hoping that because of this, we shall not be caught out in this way, and because of what is going on in the North East with the Dorman Long Universal Beam Mill. I hope these new plants will be speedily completed and in production. I hope that this Bill will give complete powers to the industry and the Corporation to engage in the fullest research to produce the most efficient and cheapest steel possible. Complaints have been made that there has been no mention in the Bill of production. In an Act of Parliament production is not dealt with, but time after time, the Minister has made appeals for increased production, and I am convinced that, with each separate company under the Corporation acting in a spirit of emulation, and not cut-throat competition, we shall get an increased output. I am also convinced that this Bill has been wisely drawn, and that there will be no dislocation whatever in the industry.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
The House has just listened to what I think was a most sincere speech by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd). In the latter part of his speech he made a genuine attempt to be constructive. I do not wish to come between him and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), although I think that it is fair to say that if a Member of Parliament genuinely feels that a mistake has been made, then, to whatever party he belongs, he is best serving the interests of his country if he makes his change of attitude known up and down the country. I hope the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees will not think me patronising if I suggest that he should not get mixed up in coal statistics. In coal mining the only figure of any importance is how much is produced per year by the individual worker. I ask the hon. Member to go home and ponder over the fact that in 1948 this country was producing at the rate of 100 million tons less than in 1938. It takes a bit of working out, but he will find that that is so.
I find myself in the peculiar position of speaking for the second time in the lifetime of this Parliament in regard to an industry with which I have been associated nearly all my life and which 1586 is becoming nationalised. On this occasion my feelings are somewhat different from the previous occasion, because I think this may be something of a passing phase. Nevertheless, I have been naturally concerned to discover if there was something in this Measure which had not emerged on Second Reading, but which would justify me in changing my approach to this problem.
Obviously I must appear biased. I am connected, in one way or another, with half a dozen concerns which appear in the Third Schedule. Nevertheless I believe it is possible to approach this problem with a reasonably unbiased attitude. Although I was not a Member serving on the Committee, as there was another Committee sitting at the same time, I have very carefully read what the Minister and what other hon. Members opposite have said. I cannot for the life of me, from the purely material point of view—and that is the point of view from which I do approach these problems— see that the case has in any way been proved. I say "material" advisedly. In the long run my philosophy of these matters is that unless we have a successful industry we do not serve the welfare, either of the people in the industry or the nation at large. So far, nothing has emerged, and no proof has been put forward, which would make one feel that there is justification for this Measure.
I can only claim to have any knowledge of this industry from two aspects, the production of iron ore and some knowledge of blast furnace work. Strangely enough, throughout the discussion on this Bill hardly any reference at all has been made to those two aspects of the industry. After all, this is an Iron and Steel Bill, and in the last resort steel cannot be produced without an adequate supply of iron ore. In that connection I wish to bring the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) into the argument, because he has played quite a prominent part in the discussions on this Bill. He has very often made reference to the steel works of Corby. While he was right to do so, as Corby is one of the great steel-producing entities of this country, the hon. and learned Member does at the same time represent an area of the country which produces as much iron ore as any part of the British Isles. In fact, the iron ore product 1587 in that part of Northamptonshire possibly exceeds in importance even the steel works at Corby. There may be some reason why the hon. and learned Member has never made reference to the production of iron ore. It may well be that he has come to the conclusion, either through experience or knowledge, that he was getting on dangerous ground when discussing iron ore in relation to this Bill—
§ Mr. Mitchison
If the hon. and gallant Member will look at the Committee proceedings he will find a very long discussion on the methods of iron ore production, in which I think there was a very strong feeling in the Committee on possible steps which should be taken to get that part of Northamptonshire restored after the damage which is being done to it now, and which has been done in the past, by iron ore mining companies.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I beg the pardon of he hon. and learned Member. I am aware of the fact that he discussed the question of restoration but I was talking about the main question of the production of iron ore, the extraction of iron ore, because that is the matter which essentially affects the economics of this Measure. At this point I wish to bring in a matter which was referred to a day or so ago in this House when, in a supplementary question to the Minister of Fuel and Power, I asked why there was this immense disparity between the extractive cost of iron ore and that of opencast coal. The Parliamentary Secretary, as usual, jumped in head first and came out with the answer that of course there is a difference owing to the greater depth of opencast coal measures and the cost of restoration. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has often referred to me as unpatriotic, but I can assure him that I am not as simple as he thinks. I know something about those industries and on a suitable occasion we shall debate it in this House.
What I wish to mention on this occasion—and at this point I get back to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering—is that in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member there happen to be iron ore mines which are of precisely the same depth, both in shallowness and in depth, as the shallowest and deepest type 1588 of opencast coalmining. Why I mention these matters is that here, for the first time, we have an exact yardstick by which we can evaluate whether or not we are likely to get cheaper costs or otherwise through this Measure. What I wish to hear, if possible, from the Minister is whether it is seriously suggested that, as a result of this Measure, we shall get cheaper iron ore than at present? Because if opencast mining, which is a Government run and Government initiated method of dealing with very much the same type of material under very similar conditions, is any guide to this, the country will awaken to a rude shock. The difference is something which I do not think hon. Members on either side of the House appreciate.
As one indication I will give a figure which I think will surprise hon. Members. At mid-day today I was at a meeting in Chesterfield at which we discussed this subject. We were discussing the year's results of an iron ore field of a fairly shallow nature, but no shallower than a good many opencast mining units. The figure we were discussing not only referred to the total cost of extracting; it included overheads, depreciation and the like, and the complete restoration of the land. The figure was much smaller than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power might think.
At a selling price of no more than 5s. a ton, a handsome profit was being made. The similar figure for opencast coal is much nearer 23s. In some of the deep mines the figure is getting very much nearer 50s. The comparable figure for iron ore is about 7s. Will this fill anybody approaching this problem with any degree of confidence that when the Government take over we shall have a lowering of costs? The answer we always get is, "That is all very well. If you can do it, we can do it." That is an answer we have been given too often in many other cases. We were told that about coal mining—"If you can hold a level, we can hold it." The fact is that the level has not been held. We have been told that once too often.
That is only one approach to this problem. I am dealing with the primary essentials in the production of steel—there are only two, coal and iron ore—which we extract in this country. We have seen what happened to the price of 1589 coal, and every steel worker and blast furnace worker knows what effect that has had on the economy of the industry. Iron ore production is one of our most efficient industries. Our costs of production are comparable with anything on the Continent, in Sweden or in North America. Yet in approaching this problem, not a word has been said by the Government to the effect that they intend to improve on this or indeed that they hope to hold the price at the present level. Not a word has been said about being able to hold on or improve upon the existing price of steel, pig iron or any of the processed results. Until this material case is made out, I cannot see that all these generalisations will get us anywhere. I do not know whether the Minister or hon. Members opposite have read Lord Brand's article in the current issue of "Lloyd's Bank Magazine." That appears to me to answer all the generalities.
We are forced back on to the practical and material issues. As a result of this Bill do we reasonably expect cheaper and more abundant steel? Nothing that I heard during the Report stage and nothing that I have read of the proceedings in Standing Committee gives me the slightest feeling that that will happen. There must be hon. Members in all parts of the House who have the same material approach to the problem. If there are, I cannot for the life of me see that they are justified in saying that they conscientiously support this Measure. The Minister has frequently referred to flexibility. I do not believe that one can be a successful industrialist unless one is reasonably flexible in one's approach. I hope that my attitude of mind is sufficiently flexible to enable me to be swayed by argument. But no argument has been advanced from the physical or the industrial aspect of this problem to convince me or anybody else that we can genuinely look forward to a greater abundance of steel and the processed articles, of pig iron and the blast furnace products at a cheaper rate than at present. Until that case is proved, we are not justified in giving our support to this Measure.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the Opposition in this 1590 Debate. At the end of the Debate a vote will be taken and we shall end a chapter in the history of the steel industry. In the whole of the speeches I have heard today, I have been struck more by what has been left out than by what has been included. Nearly every speaker for the Opposition has dealt with the question of Stock Exchange compensation and dividends. Not a word has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the human element in the steel industry. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that of the men who have made this industry successful none have contributed more than the workers, and they are completely left out of the Bill. In fact, as I see the position, we leave out any reference to a man who is paid compensation under the old Workmen's Compensation Act for an injury sustained at his work. He will continue to draw his compensation from a soulless insurance society, while the shareholders receive their dividends. That matter should be dealt with by the Minister. There is a human element which we have totally neglected.
I wish to discuss some of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards). He spoke about the five per cent. which the Government will pay almost perpetually to the shareholder. I agree with him. We are paying too much as compensation to the owners of this industry. Hon. Members have said that this is a bright spot, that we are producing 14 million tons and that everything is going along swimmingly. It is at this time that we are to assess what the compensation shall be. Why should not we take a period of 20 years? Over the last 20 years—especially in the thirties—between 20 and 25 per cent. of the men in the industry were unemployed. The value of the shares depreciated. A large number of the concerns paid no dividend at all for a number of years. Why do we say that we will assess the compensation at what is a flourishing and bright spot in the history of the industry?
Hon. Members have created quite a stir in this House on the question of compensation. I do not blame the Conservative Party for creating a stir. We are changing a system —gradually it is true. We are changing from the capitalist system of 1591 production to a Socialist system of production. If the Tory Party do not raise objection in this House to a change of this kind, then who will? The capitalist system has always been kind to the capitalist class represented by the Tory Party. Surely, they are the people who would try to defend the position. They would not be worthy of the name of Conservative if they were not prepared to conserve the privileges which they have enjoyed for many years. We are here as a Socialist Party not to conserve the privileges of the few, but to bring about a change. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) said that when this Bill was passed we were going to have a hand in every pie, but it is going to be everybody's pie and belong to the nation, and, surely, we ought to have a say in something that belongs to us.
I would remind the House and the nation that in passing this Bill we are not handing over the steel industry to the Labour Party. We are not even handing it over to the workers in the steel industry. We are paying the price demanded by the Stock Exchange in order to make it the property of the nation and of the people of this country. That is why we came to this House. Who is going to determine the matter? Hon. Members have said that it will be determined at the next General Election. I have no fear at all of the result of the next General Election, but we can see that hon. Members opposite are not satisfied in their own minds that it is going to be settled at the next Election. I would like to quote from their own book on the subject "About the Nationalisation of Steel," on page 8 of which it is stated that this is no academic question—Whether or not these trades are to be nationalised will be finally decided neither by the present Socialist Government, nor by this House of Commons, nor most certainly by the House of Lords, but by each one of us individually as a voter at the next General election.So they tell us quite definitely that this issue is to be determined, not by a vote of this House, nor by another place, but at the next General Election. Then, on page 18 of the same book, they print questions for discussion, and this is one of the questions, indicating that it is one 1592 of the many things about which they are not yet clear. This is the question:Do you think that the Steel Bill should be repealed by the Conservative Party after the next General Election whether or not transfer to public ownership has already taken place?They have not yet come to a decision in their own minds whether we shall have the Bill through before the next Election or after it.
I started my speech by saying that we are writing a chapter in the history of the steel industry of this country which will be completed, so far as we are concerned, at ten o'clock this evening. I want hon. Members to look back upon the chapter that has been written and see whether it is a satisfactory chapter as far, as the steel industry is concerned. Of course, there is a fine relationship between the workers and the employers in the industry, and we were told by one hon. Member that, because of these splendid relationships, there should be no nationalisation and that we should proceed with nationalisation only in industries where there is not such a good relationship between employers and employed. But who has built up these relationships? Has it been done by the Tory Party? If we get hold of their leaflets, we find that they tell us how they recognised the trade unions, gave them proper recognition and passed Bills through this House. Of course, they did. They passed Bills to recognise the trade unions after years of opposition and when it was too dangerous to persist any longer in refusing the reform that was required.
What about production? Shall we look at it from the employers' point of view? If we do, shall we see a spectacular advance in the industry? In 1900, the world production of steel was 27½ million tons; in 1929, it was 118.3 million tons. In this country, production jumped from 5 million tons in 1900 to 9.64 million tons in 1929. Thus, we did not double our output between 1900 and 1929; that is the progress we have made. America, in 1900, produced 10½ million tons; in 1929, she produced 56 million tons, a jump of more than five times her production in 29 years, whereas the industry in this country did not double its output. So much for production in the industry.
In the past, the steel industry has often come to this House for assistance. It came here for a protective tariff because 1593 it was in a bad way. The industry came to this House because its leaders wanted rationalisation. But what did that mean? To them, the rationalisation of the steel industry meant disregarding the whole of the social obligations to large communities when they transferred their works from place to place. Rationalisation built up unemployment. If anybody has paid into the steel industry, it has been the worker by his sweat and toil and unemployment.
When we are discussing, as we have been this evening, the question of compensation, we must have regard to the fact that the value of this industry is largely the unpaid wages of millions of men over the last 20 or 30 years. Between the wars, we had increasing unemployment in this industry; in fact, from 1919 until 1938 or 1939, there was one continuous slump. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough said that the employers suffered and I agree with him that they did, but the workers suffered very, very considerably. What comparison is there between the employer, with his money invested in the industry, not picking up a dividend this year, and the man who is compelled to stand at the street corner because he cannot get employment? There is no comparison at all.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The point is that, under this Bill, the employer is going to make no sacrifice at all.
§ Mr. Awbery
I want to see who is getting the compensation. It was not the share certificate which stood before the fiery furnace, getting its face distorted with the heat; it was a human being, flesh and blood, who is now not being considered at all in this Bill. It was not a share certificate that looked into the white hot furnace, but a human being, nearly losing his sight in the process; and I feel that these men are being left out and that this is one of the weaknesses of the Bill. Consideration is given, as always in the past, to dividends, but we have got to change all this. I hope the time will come when a re-assessment of human values will take place and we shall regard the human as much as we do the material and the financial side of the business. The sufferings of those pitiless years of tragedy, not only in the steel industry, are indelibily impressed upon the minds of the workers, who will never forget them.
1594 If the Conservative Party want to win an election, I can tell them how to do it. They will win an election when they can get the workers of this country to forget their past. The Tory Party cannot wash away the stains of those unforgetably tragic years between the wars. Those stains cannot be washed from their hands like stains of paint or grease. The Conservative Party are issuing pamphlets in order to convert the workers. The pamphlets say what they have done for us. They had been trying to prevent us from making progress, but in spite of all their wealth and all that they have done we have made progress. We have succeeded in forcing the employers to recognise us as a trade union. Then they come to us and say, "You must give us the virtue of winning for the trade unions the rights of recognition in this great democratic country." It was not the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Party that gave the trade union movement recognition. The trade union movement fought every inch of its way in the steel industry until it was recognised. As the result of that recognition, we have a remarkable industry with harmony and a fine joint committee. What we have done has been done, not by the help of the Conservative Party, but by the unselfish and loyal work of the trade unions in the steel industry and the other industries of this country.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
It is not, I think, surprising that at this stage of the proceedings there are not many new arguments which can be advanced upon the general principles of the Bill. There are, of course, many Clauses upon which neither in Committee nor on Report have we had any discussion. There are points upon which, therefore, both the House and the country are still in the dark. I think, however, that upon the main issue of principle raised by the Bill there is not very much new that can be said.
When the Bill came before the House for Second Reading, I had at that time very little special knowledge of this industry. I have learned a good deal during the Committee and Report stages. Having heard the Lord President of the Council on more than one occasion in recent years state that the nationalisers must prove their case and that the onus 1595 of proof lies upon those who demand a change, I felt that in the course of the Debates on this Bill I should hear a long catalogue of the defects of the industry and its shortcomings, and practical proposals by the Government, embodied in the Bill, for remedying these defects and making good the shortcomings.
Although I have attended throughout all our long Debates upon this Measure, we have had no catalogue of defects, and no list of shortcomings in the industry as it exists today. It is naturally difficult to answer a case which has not been made. There have been various vague phrases used about the need for an overall plan, as if there had not been an overall plan for this industry for at least 17 years; and there have also been vague phrases used about the need for reorganisation, apparently oblivious of the fact that the Government approved completely the reorganisation plan put forward by the industry at the end of 1945.
The result is that after some six months of participating in, and listening to, Debates and speeches upon the iron and steel industry I still remain unenlightened as to what are the defects in the industry which this nationalisation Measure is designed to remedy. There is no suggestion in any part of the Bill that any measure can be taken by anybody for increasing the technical efficiency of the industry. Not having heard of any defects in the industry's structure, I did at least expect to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that there was at any rate an insistent demand from the workers in the industry for the nationalisation of their industry.
I expected that we should hear the argument, put forward with some force in the case of the coal industry, that the workers demanded nationalisation and would not give of their best until the industry was nationalised. That argument is what I always think of in my own mind as the Pears' soap advertisement argument. Those of us who were young 30 or 40 years ago used to see upon every railway station in the country a picture of a naked and chubby baby holding out his hand attempting to seize a piece of Pears' soap, with underneath the caption, "He won't be happy till he gets it." It is a bit out of date now because we cannot get it anyway. The strongest argument put forward for the 1596 nationalisation of the coal industry was that the miner would not be happy until he got it.
The Parliamentary Secretary occasionally assures us that the workers in the iron and steel industry would like nationalisation, but the highest he put it in his speech today was when he spoke of "the request" of the men in the industry for public ownership and control. Well, the Parliamentary Secretary is a Yorkshireman and Yorkshiremen do not speak of a request when they really mean a demand. Believe me, this is not the language in which Mr. Smillie and Mr. Cook used to speak when they demanded the nationalisation of the coal industry.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the language used by the Yorkshire steel workers in demanding nationalisation of the steel industry would not be permitted in the House if used by a Minister?
§ Mr. Peake
All I can say is that in my opinion the Parliamentary Secretary would not have spoken of "the request" of the men for public ownership if there were a genuine burning demand on the part of the workers to have their industry nationalised.
The Parliamentary Secretary went on to say, in his speech this afternoon, that this Bill will secure the continuance of the good relationships in the industry between the management and the men. I am very glad to hear that there have been good relationships in this industry between the management and the men, and it certainly seems that both parties to the industry are quite happy with the present set-up, but I cannot see anything in the Bill especially designed to ensure the continuance of those good relations which have been built up in the past.
There is no evidence whatever, either in the speeches made by the leaders of the trade unions in the country, or in the speeches made by those who speak for the iron and steel workers, of any sense of bitterness or frustration similar to that which existed in the coal industry with regard to which we were so constantly assured that nationalisation would resolve—it would resolve the sense of bitterness and do away with the sense of frustration; it would have a most wonderful effect on production and output. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it has."] We 1597 have had some discussion about output today, and I really did think everyone in the House had by now appreciated that the output per man per annum in 1938 in the coal industry was 302 tons whereas today it is about 270, or in other words a 10 per cent. loss of output per man employed as compared with 1938.
I am left therefore, at the concluding stage of this Bill, with no reason at all for its introduction. There are no enthusiastic advocates of this Bill and no crusading zeal in favour of it on the part of Members opposite; in fact, there are only a few apologists for it. The case of those who support the Government in this matter is that it is quite an innocuous Measure, which will do no harm and will only mean that the shares will be transferred from the present holders to the Iron and Steel Corporation. That is the case as put by the most enthusiastic supporters of the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary praised the Bill by calling it a workmanlike Measure which can be implemented in all its aspects, whatever he means by that phrase. I referred to him just now as being a Yorkshireman, and Yorkshiremen as a rule express themselves rather more clearly and definitely than that.
The only real argument upon which supporters of the Bill are forced back is the one developed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Second Reading, and that is that the iron and steel industry is a great citadel of power and that the "steel barons" enjoy too much influence. What utter nonsense that is. Those in control of the iron and steel industry today are not only responsible to the Government who have a large share in the control of the industry, but they are responsible to the consumers who can change their source of supply if they are not satisfied with what they are getting. They are responsible also to the trade unions with whom they apparently enjoy the most excellent relations. And what is the remedy suggested for having too much power in too few hands? The remedy is to put all the power into the hands of half a dozen men who are to be members of the board of the Iron and Steel Corporation.
At this late time I can only mention a few of what seem to me to be the major defects of the Bill. We have never been told what the Corporation will do; we 1598 know it will own the shares in the 100 companies named in the Third Schedule, but no one knows how much the Corporation will do beyond that and to what extent it will interfere in the day to day management of these companies. What we have been told about the members of the Iron and Steel Board, however, is first that they are to be full-time, and second that they are to be what is called non-functional. They are to be Ministers without Portfolio.
In my opinion, as one who has had some little practical experience of business, directors should be either whole-time and functional or part-time and non-functional. I cannot believe that seven or eight amateurs, who are non-functional and who have no executive or administrative jobs to do themselves, will put in full-time work as members of the Board of this Corporation. Apparently, they are to have a continuous Board meeting, which will go on for eight hours every day for five days every week. [An HON. MEMBER: "And no Guillotine."] Yes, without a Guillotine. I would ask the Minister to try to make clear what he thinks seven or eight Ministers without portfolio—Paymasters-General or Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster—will do to fill in their time and earn their salaries as non-functional full-time members of the Board.
Among the other great defects of the Bill are the licensing Clauses, which appear in Part III. Hitherto it has been considered the function of Parliament to devise measures to protect the weak against the strong. Here we have an elaborate arrangement to protect the great new monster, the Iron and Steel Corporation, from the competition of the small men who are engaged in the smallest units in the industry. Then there is the completely ineffective Clause which the right hon. Gentleman produced on Report to try and prevent the Corporation from showing undue preference or exercising undue discrimination. That Clause would be all right if it affected the companies which will be actually carrying on the iron and steel business, but as the Minister has drawn it it will be quite impossible for the dissatisfied customer who has been treated unfairly by one of the controlled companies named in the Schedule to bring proceedings of any kind against the Corporation, which will 1599 not have been carrying on actual trading activities.
Lastly, we come to the grievance which has been mentioned before, and which we debated with some warmth last Tuesday —the terms of compensation. I hope that the Minister, who has not yet addressed himself to this matter of the fairness of the terms of compensation, but who has left this unenviable task to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, will himself have a go at it tonight. I am sure we should all appreciate hearing from him in what way the terms of compensation proposed by the Bill make proper allowance for the results of all capital expenditure undertaken by the industry after 26th May, 1946.
This Bill means in my opinion completely centralised control of the whole industry. The Minister has told us that all finance and investments will be managed centrally by the Corporation. It will have an immense concentration of power, and that power can and will be exercised over every manager and man in its employment. It is not long ago since I had a letter from a constituent of mine who had been sacked by the National Coal Board. He applied for work at four or five neighbouring collieries as he would have done in the bad old days. At each of those pits he was refused employment, and it was not until after he had written to me that he was able to obtain permission from the Ministry of Labour to take employment outside the coalmining industry. The apparent policy of the National Coal Board in regard to that man was to punish him by keeping him in perpetual idleness. Under this Bill the iron and steel workers will be just as much threatened with that sort of thing as are the colliery workers and miners of today.
The Corporation will have unlimited power to injure and destroy what has taken generations to build up. There will in any event at the outset for the next two or three years be a period of uncertainty and stagnation and that will go on through a critical period for our national recovery. The best brains in the industry for the next two or three years will be, most likely, engaged with the appallingly difficult problem arising from what the Minister calls "hiving off." This operation involves most complicated 1600 calculations in regard to questions of tax liability and similar matters. The best brains of the industry will have to be given to these complicated questions so as to build up new organisations and try to save something from the wreck of nationalisation.
We have had no discussion in Committee or on Report upon the Clause which gives the Minister power to give directions of a general character to the Corporation. I hope the Minister in his reply tonight will give us some indication of how he proposes that that power should be exercised, because obviously between the Minister and the Corporation there will be divided complete and absolute power, and it would be of some interest to the House to know how much responsibility will rest with the Minister and how much will be left with the Corporation. To what extent, if any, will Members of this House be free to challenge and question the Minister upon the directions which he may issue from time to time to the Corporation?
One of the major objections to the Bill is that by it the Government becomes an active participant in the industrial field upon a gigantic scale. Many hon. Members have spoken of conflicts that have risen in the past and are bound to be repeated in the future between considerations of pure economics on the one hand and social considerations on the other. These arise particularly in the iron and steel industry with regard to the location of plant and the closing down of old-fashioned or inefficient plant. I believe, now that the Government are to become the owners of the iron and steel industry, that for the future it will not be possible for the Government to hold the balance fairly as an impartial arbitrator between these conflicting claims. I believe that, under political pressure, these questions will always be decided in the future against the interests of efficiency and economy and in favour of what I call the social and amenity considerations. For the future the Government will play at centre forward and act as referee at one and the same time.
Britain's industrial supremacy in the past has been largely built on the iron and steel industry. Our survival in the future must depend upon it. This industry has met the nation's needs both in war and peace. If this country had not 1601 rejected Lord Baldwin's appeal in 1923 for a tariff, the industry would not have suffered so severely in the years of the great depression and in the bad old days of Labour misrule from 1929 to 1931. Since the imposition of a tariff in 1932, this industry has grown year by year in efficiency and in output. To force this Measure through today is reckless and wanton gambling, for political ends, with the livelihood and the survival of our people.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. G. R. Strauss)
I think the House will agree that this Debate on the Third Reading of the Bill has been characterised, as were most of the Debates in Committee and on Report, by good humour, although there have today been effective and hard-hitting speeches. I was particularly interested, as I think the House was as a whole, by contributions made by hon. Members on the Government benches with a long personal experience of the iron and steel industries and with memories going back to those bad days when there was depression and very considerable unemployment.
The one interesting feature of the Debate is that there has been very little, if any, repetition of the argument that was advanced earlier—it was half argument and half threat—that if the Government proceeded with this Measure there would be an immediate and serious effect on the production of iron and steel. That argument was put forward when the Government first proposed, in May, 1946, and so informed the House, that this industry was to be nationalised. Indeed, it was urged by no less a person than the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) whose 'absence today I am sure we all deplore. He said very definitely that there would inevitably be immediate dislocation of the iron and steel industry and he suggested that it would be very serious. The House and the country should realise that that dislocation did not happen, that managements and men in the iron and steel industry continued to produce iron and steel at increasing rates, and that those who believed that there would be any adverse reaction as a result of the Government's pronouncement were libelling the people in the iron and steel industry.
1602 It is a fact that since that day in May, 1946, when that announcement was made, production has gone up from an annual rate of just over 13 million tons per annum to over 15 million tons in 1948 and nearly 16 million tons in 1949. I am taking the rate of production calculated on an annual basis, in the April of each year. That disposes of those gloomy prophecies. I noticed that this argument was not advanced today and I hope it is recognised generally—I hope by the Opposition, but I am doubtful—that one of the incidental virtues of the Bill we are today discussing is that it proposes a scheme of nationalisation without dislocation of the industry.
I propose to deal with various points put forward in the Debate today. I shall start with some observations on one or two points made by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). One argument used by the right hon. Member for Aldershot was that the nationalisation of this industry would have serious and adverse implications and results in that the export of steel and the sale of steel abroad to various countries would be considered as a political counter in the export trade, and that that would be bad. I do not believe that that will necessarily be so in the future when there is ample steel, but it is certainly true today when steel is exported almost invariably as a result of some bilateral trade agreement with one country or another, apart from the steel which goes to the Colonies and the Commonwealths. Steel is a political counter, and a very valuable political counter, in helping our international trade, and I do not think that this fact is bringing any adverse results. Indeed, at the moment it is bringing some very favourable ones.
I was asked by the right hon. Member for North Leeds to repeat the arguments in favour of the nationalisation of this industry. I do not think it would be appropriate to do so on this occasion. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not, of course, convinced by the arguments advanced at great length by the Lord President, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself during the Second Reading Debate and I do not think it part of my duty today—I do not want to delay the House—to repeat those selfsame arguments. I do not know whether 1603 the right hon. Member for North Leeds was here during that Second Reading Debate, but if he was he has forgotten all about it. He has accused me of not saying during that important Debate a number of things which I did say at great length. He complained that I said nothing about the duties of the Corporation and the sort of work we would expect them to do when they were appointed. I set that out at great length and I gave a long list of the very difficult work which the Corporation would have to undertake and which would I am sure occupy a number of very able men for a very long time.
§ Mr. Strauss
The duties of the Corporation and the work they will do remain exactly the same. The redrafting of the Clause, in order to meet some observations and criticisms of the Opposition and outside bodies—incorporating words about the discrimination between one buyer and another—does not in the slightest affect the planning work which the Corporation will undertake.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to complain that I had not said anything about compensation but had left it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary; but I would refer him to columns 69–72 of HANSARD during the Second Reading Debate when I spoke at great length. I hoped that I had convinced the right hon. Gentleman, though apparently I had not, of the fairness of our compensation terms. Again I do not think it would be appropriate on this occasion—I am perfectly prepared to do so shortly if requested—to repeat the quite conclusive arguments which have been advanced over and over again by my right hon. and hon. Friends showing that the share value is the fair, free market value at which individual holders of those shares should be compensated when those shares are taken away from them.
Moreover the price of those shares includes a number of factors—present dividend policy, past record of the company and the future prospects of the 1604 company. In the future prospects of the company concerned is incorporated any profit likely to come to it as a result of capital development in that company after the date at which the pledge to nationalise the industry was given.
§ Mr. Strauss
The other question which the right hon. Gentleman asked was, what directions of a general character can the Minister give to the Corporation? I hope that the Minister, whoever he may be, will not be forced to give any directions to the Corporation, but that the Corporation will, in consultation with the Minister, carry out broadly the requirements of the Government in the interests of the public as conceived by the Government of the day. However, if he asks what sort of directions, I will give him one example. It may well be that the Government will tell the Corporation that the total capacity of the industry in a number of years should be so much. That is a perfectly legitimate direction for the Government to give the Corporation; and it may well be that the Corporation will want the views and directions of the Government on a matter of major importance of that kind.
§ Mr. Strauss
When I am asked whether directions given by the Minister to the Corporation can be questioned and challenged in the House, my answer is definitely yes. Not only can the Minister be challenged on the directions he gives, but he could be questioned on directions which he does not give and which any hon. Member thinks he ought to give and which he. is empowered to give by the terms of the Bill. So we are quite clear on that point.
I want to say a few words about the changes in the Bill which have been brought about while it has passed through its various stages in this House. I acknowledge willingly the value of many of the suggestions put forward by the Opposition during the Committee stage and many of those suggestions have been incorporated in the Bill. Apart from the T.U.C., I am also grateful to the Federation of British Industries, the National Union of Manufacturers and 1605 the Association of British Chambers of Commerce for discussing with me a variety of matters directly affecting consumers' interests, particularly the constitution and duties of the Consumers' Council. I said during the Report stage that those bodies were now wholly satisfied with the redraft of the important Clause 3. I admit that it would have been more accurate if I had said that they were largely satisfied, because wholly satisfied they are not. However, I have gone a long way to meeting their views and I hope that they are broadly satisfied with a number of changes which I have made.
The help I was given by those representatives of industry, hostile as they are to the principles of the Bill, makes me all the more sorry that the people most directly concerned and most knowledgeable about this industry—I mean the leaders of the industry itself and the Federation—have not, in spite of the invitation I extended to them during my Second Reading speech, put any suggestions before me for improving a single detail of the Bill. There are only two possible explanations of this. The first is that die Bill is so good that they could not think of any improvement; that would be flattering, but unlikely. The second is that as a result of the political pressure of some of its members the Federation has told all the leaders of the industry that they should not submit any advice to me on how the industry, when nationalised, can best operate.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
Has the right hon. Gentleman at any time given any indication of what would be the position of the Federation under nationalisation?
§ Mr. Strauss
I invited the Federation and the leaders of the industry to put any point to me, but they have not done so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The fact that they have not put any points before me is regrettable, and however hostile—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—those people may be to the principles of nationalisation, I am sure that the House as a whole and the country would strongly condemn any politically-inspired non-co-operation that is likely to damage the interests of this great industry and of the nation. I am, however, certain that the vast majority of all those in the industry, whatever their level or job, 1606 whether in the steel works, the Federation, one of its commercial offshoots, or in its very fine Research Association will be prepared, when this Measure finally receives the Royal Assent, to contribute towards the prosperity of this great national industry, at least as wholeheartedly as they have done in the past. I have no doubt that the Corporation, when appointed, will desire to continue the admirable work of these bodies, and that these bodies will continue to render the industry invaluable service.
I want to say a word on the controversial matter of the Guillotine. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot said that the Bill would pass to another place undiscussed. During the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman himself made 90 speeches; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds made 74—
§ Mr. Strauss
—the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made 61 and the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), 44.
§ Mr. Strauss
Just about the same as that of the right hon. Member for Aldershot. That is well and good, but in view of those many hundreds of speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite I cannot understand how they can allege that the Bill has passed from this House undiscussed. What were they doing when they were making those speeches?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Would the right hon. Gentleman add, for the statistical information of the House, how many Clauses were undiscussed in the Committee?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am just coming to that. It was alleged, and has been alleged again today, that the Government prevented adequate discussion of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I deny that allegation emphatically. As the House is aware, the Government moved a time-table Resolution for this Bill because the Opposition were unwilling to accept, or even to discuss a voluntary time-table arrangement.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I really must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman if he makes interjections of this kind. What we 1607 refused was that the Guillotine should fall four times on the last day and about 16 times in the Debates; and I suggest that all this is out of Order.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison) rose—
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I understood we were dealing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] —I understood we were dealing with the Third Reading of the Bill. Would you advise us what the intervention of the Lord President of the Council has to do with it and what the statistics the Minister has given have to do with the Third Reading?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
Mr. Speaker himself allowed the right hon. Member for Aldershot to be interrupted by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If hon. Members kept quiet they would be able to hear—[HON. MEMBERS: "Send him out"] Order. In view of the breadth of discussion which had been allowed before I occupied the Chair I thought it would be wrong on my part when I occupied the Chair suddenly to narrow it
§ Mr. Lyttelton
On a point of Order. Is it not out of Order to continue for more than a minute on these matters of the Guillotine? Is not the Third Reading confined to discussions of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The matter is either out of Order instantly or can be discussed as long as the Minister wants and it does not make any difference to the value or relevance of the point of Order.
§ Mr. Morrison
I want only to say in support of what my right hon. Friend has said that we met the Opposition leaders with a view to their making a voluntary arrangement if they wished and they flatly refused to have any discussion.
§ Mr. Strauss
I only want to say a few words about this—[Interruption.] I am entitled, if hon. Members opposite will permit me, to answer some remarks made by many Members of the Opposition during the day on this matter. At the same 1608 time as they were refusing to discuss a voluntary time-table arrangement, they were declaring that they would use every Parliamentary device open to them to prevent the passage of this Bill through Parliament. In those circumstances, it was surely right—
§ Mr. Strauss
The Conservative Party Opposition. It was right for the Government to take the only measures open to them to ensure that this Measure on which, in the opinion of the Government, the prosperity of this country largely depends, shall not be indefinitely held up by a Parliamentary minority and, secondly, that our Parliamentary institution should not again be discredited by happenings similar to those which characterised the passage of the Gas Bill.
§ Commander Galbraith rose—
§ Commander Galbraith
Yes. Sir. Will you give us a definite Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on what we are entitled to discuss and what we are not entitled to discuss on the Third Reading?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that if the hon. and eallant Member had been here in the last hour he would have heard many of his hon. Friends refer to the Coal Industry (Nationalisation) Bill and other nationalisation Measures. Mr. Strauss.
§ Commander Galbraith
I have been here for the last hour and have heard what was said, but the right hon. Gentleman is going far beyond that.
§ Mr. Strauss
I only want to say that, on any reckoning and any comparison with any previous nationalisation Measure—[Interruption.] I was saying that on any reckoning, with 36 meetings in Committee and four sittings on Report stage, ample time was in fact given for an adequate discussion of the Bill. That was on condition, of course, that there 1609 was a genuine intention all round that the time should be fully used, and not frittered away in a series of long speeches on every detail in the Bill and how that detail could be amended.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many times the Closure was moved by the Government? Is there anything at all in this argument? Nothing whatever.
§ Mr. Strauss
I suggest to the House that when there is a Guillotine Motion it would be wholly wrong for the Government to move the Closure during the meetings of the Committee. I do not know, but I very much doubt whether the Chairman would have accepted such a Motion. As the House is aware, that is exactly what did happen in Committee. There were very long and interminable discussions on details and on points—
§ Commander Galbraith
On a point of Order. I understood that the House had assembled to hear about the Third Reading of the Bill. The Minister has spent some ten minutes telling us what happened in regard to the Guillotine. Is it in Order for the Minister to continue to talk about the Guillotine and what happened in Committee and not to refer to the Bill?
§ Mr. Stokes rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If I am on my feet and if I have been asked a point of Order, surely the Speaker is to he allowed to reply. My answer is that I understood that the Minister was replying to a great many things which were said about the Guillotine in the earlier part of the Debate when I happened to be in the Chair. It is for him to decide whether he curtails his speech or not, but it is perfectly in Order for him to reply to the allegations made at the beginning of the Debate.
§ Mr. Stokes
On a point of Order. As I could not get my explanation in, Sir, and with great respect to you, we have now had about five points of Order which were entirely inaudible at this end of the House despite protest. I ask you.
1610 Sir, to ask hon. Members on the Opposition benches to make their points of Order clear to this end of the House.
§ Mr. Strauss
I would have finished with this subject in about three or four minutes, but it has been prolonged by points of Order which have been raised. The House will remember that on Report stage agreed Amendments, which had been agreed by the Opposition, were discussed for hours after the agreement had been declared. Finally, my answer to the charge that some sections of this Bill have not been adequately discussed in Committee and on Report is the undeniable and regrettable fact that it is wholly and solely due to the tactics pursued by the Conservative Party—[Interruption.] They could have had a proper examination of the Bill if that had been their desire, but they preferred instead to manufacture political grievances which they hoped to exploit.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas
And the Lord President goes to Paris and talks about Parliamentary democracy. [Interruption.]
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
On a point of Order. While the hon. Member below the Gangway was making an interruption, an hon. Gentleman called out "Judas" and I should like to ask whether the term "Judas" is in Order—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I must confess that I did not hear the word "Judas," and I do not know who was referred to.
§ Earl Winterton
I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) use the word "Judas," I ask whether he should not be called upon to withdraw this very offensive observation.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not hear it. It did not come to the ear of the Chair. There is nothing I can do.
§ Mr. Strauss
I think the trouble with the right hon. Gentleman is that he has such a low irritation point.
§ Brigadier Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The Minister said about ten minutes ago that he would answer the question about how many Clauses were omitted during the discussions in Standing Committee. Is it in Order to ask him to make that statement now?
§ Mr. Strauss
I never said anything of the sort, of course. One of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite gave that figure and the hon. and gallant Gentleman can ask him. It is all in the record.
We believe that under this Bill the industry will have every opportunity to expand. Its management and technicians and all those within it bearing any responsibility will, under the Bill as we have proposed and drafted it, have ample opportunity for initiative and enterprise; indeed, I believe more than ever before, because they will no longer be hampered by lack of fresh capital, as they often have been in the past, or by the sectional and conflicting interests of private owners.
Because of all that has been said, by implication, to the contrary, even during the Debate today, by many hon. Members on the other side of the House, I want to make it clear once more that the making of iron and steel in its many forms will not, under this Bill, be the responsibility of any Government Department. It will be the responsibility of the managements of the existing companies which will retain their identities, their good will and such loyalties as they have been able to build up. The Corporation's function will he that of a holding company responsible in their broad policy to Parliament through, of course, the Minister of Supply. They will be charged with the general duty of ensuring that the development of the industry and the price, quality and type of their products conform to the overall economic needs of the nation. As I said in the Second Reading Debate, this set-up combines all that is best in public ownership and private enterprise.
§ But this Bill, far reaching and beneficial as its effects will eventually be on the iron and steel industry itself, should not be considered in isolation. It is an integral part of the Government's general strategy for establishing a prosperous national economy. The power over our industrial life which previously resided, with chaotic and often disastrous consequences, in the hands of the private owners of the nation's mines, transport and steel, will reside there no longer. Henceforth, this power will provide a mighty weapon for maintaining full employment and raising the standard of life of our people.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Before the Guillotine finally falls, might I submit to the House and the country that, for the first time in our Parliamentary history, the Guillotine has been imposed not because of the exigencies of the Parliamentary programme, but to stifle discussion so that the Leader of the House can take his people away for a fortnight at Whitsuntide to enjoy the breezes and bacon at Blackpool?
§ It being Half-past Nine o'Clock Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Order [25th November] to put forthwith the Question necessary to bring to a conclusion the proceedings on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 333; Noes, 203.1615
|Division No. 134.]||AYES||[9.30 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Benson, G.||Chamberlain, R. A|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Berry, H.||Chater, D.|
|Albu, A. H.||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Chetwynd, G. R.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V||Bing, G. H. C.||Cluse, W. S|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Binns, J||Cobb, F. A.|
|Allen, Schotefield (Crewe)||Blackburn, A. R||Cocks, F. S.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Blenkinsop, A||Colindridge, F.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Boardman, H.||Collins. V. J.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Colman, Miss G. M|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Cook, T. F.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Cooper, G.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Bramall, E. A.||Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. M.)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Corlett, Dr. J.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Cove, W. G.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Crawley, A.|
|Baird, J.||Brown, George (Belper)||Crossman, R. H. S|
|Balfour, A.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Daggar, G.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Bruce, Mai. D. W. T.||Daines, P.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Burden, T. W.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Barton, C.||Burke, W. A.||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Batlley, J. R.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Callaghan, James||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughlon)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Deer, G||Jones, Jack (Bolton)||Ranger. J|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Rankin, J.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Keenan, W.||Rees-Williams, D. R|
|Diamond, J.||Kenyon, C.||Reeves, J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Dodds, N. N||King, E. M.||Rhodes, H.|
|Donovan, T.||Kinghorn, Sqn.Ldr. E||Ridealgh, Mrs. M|
|Driberg, T, E. N.||Kinley, J||Robens, A.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Lang, G.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caennarvonshire)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lavers, S.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Dye, S.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Rogers, G. H. R|
|Edelman, M.||Leslie, J. R.||Royle, C.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Lever., N. H.||Sargood, R.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly||Levy, B. W.||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Segal, Dr. S|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sharp, Granville|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Lindgren, G. S.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Ewart, R.||Longden; F.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Fairhurst, F.||Lyne, A. W.||Shurmer, P|
|Farthing, W. J||McAdam, W.||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.|
|Fernyhough, E.||McAllister, G.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||McEntee, V. La T.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||McGhee, H. G.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Follick, M.||Mack, J. D.||Skeffington, A M.|
|Foot, M. M.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Skeffington-Lodge, T C.|
|Forman, J. C.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||McLeavy, F.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Solley, L. J.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Sorensen, R. W|
|Gibbins, J.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Gibson, C. W||Mainwaring, W. H.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Gilzean, A.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigs)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Goodrich, H. E.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Stokes, R. R.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Strauss, Rt. Hon G. R. (Lambeth)|
|Grenfell, D. R||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Grey, C. F.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Grierson, E.||Mayhew, C. P.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Mellish, R J.||Swingler, S.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Messer, F.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Middleton, Mrs. L||Symonds, A. L.|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mikardo, Ian||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Gunter, R. J.||Mitchison, G. R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Guy, W. H.||Monslow, W.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Moody, A. S.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hale, Leslie||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Morley, R.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Hardman, D. R.||Morrison, Rt. Min. H. (Lewisham E.)||Tolley, L.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Mort, D. L.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Harrison, J.||Moyle, A.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Murray, J. D.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Haworth, J.||Nally, W.||Usborne, Henry|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Kingswinford)||Naylor, T. E.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Neal, H. (Clayoross)||Viant, S. P.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Walker, G. H.|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Hobson, C. R.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Branford)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Holman, P.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||O'Brien, T.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Horabin, T. L.||Oldfield, W. H.||Weitzman, D.|
|Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Oliver, G. H.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Hubbard, T.||Orbach, M.||Wells, W. 'T. (Walsall)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||West, D. G.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pargiter, G. A.||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Parker, J.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Hamel, H. (Hackney, C.)||Parkin, B. T.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Hynel, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rusheliffe)||Wigg, George|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Pearson, A.||Wilkes, L|
|Janner, B.||Peart, T. F.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Popplewell, E.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Jenkins, R. H.||Price, M. Philips||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Johnston, Douglas||Pritt, D. N.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Proctor, W. T.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Randall, H. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Willis, E.||Woods, G. S.||Zilliacus, K|
|Wills, Mrs. E. A.||Yates, V. F.|
|Wise, Major F. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Woodburn, Rt. Hon A.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth||Mr. Snow and Mr. George Wallace.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Amory., D. Heathcoat||Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Odey, G. W|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V||O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir H|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Haughton, S. G||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Ponsonby, Col. C E|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Hollis, M. C.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Birch, Nigel||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Price-While, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hope, Lord J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O|
|Boothby, R.||Howard, Hon. A.||Rakies, H. V.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bowen, R.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Bower, N.||Hurd, A.||Renton, D.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Jennings, R.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Keeling, E. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Butler, Rt. He. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Kendall, W. D.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Byers, Frank||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Carson, E.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col W. H||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Challen, C.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Savory, Prof. D. L|
|Chanson, H.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Langford,Holt, J.||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|Clifton-Brown. Lt.-Col. G.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Linstead, H. N.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. F||Lipson, D. L.||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Spence, H. R.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Low, A. R. W.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lucas-Tooth, S. H.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)|
|De la Bere, R.||McCallum, Maj. D.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Donner. P. W.||McFarlane, C. S.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'eld't'n, S.)|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Teeling, William|
|Drayson, G. B||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Eccles, D. M.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Touche, G. C.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Turton, R. H.|
|Erroll, F. J.||Marples, A. E.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L||Marsden, Capt. A.||Vane. W. M. E.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Maude, J. C.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Mellor, Sir J.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Molson, A. H. E.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Gage, C.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Morrison, Rt. Ho. W. S. (Cirencester)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||York, C.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Neill, Sir William (Belfast, N.)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Nicholson, G.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Mr. Drewe.|
Question put, and agreed to.