§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ The Iron and Steel Board
§ (2) The Board shall consist of a chairman and not less than nine nor more than fourteen other members.
LORD STRABOLGI moved to add to subsection (2):
of whom the Chairman and at least four other members shall be whole-time members.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment is one to which my noble friends attach considerable importance, for reasons which I shall endeavour to explain to your Lordships. Under the Bill as drawn, undoubtedly it is envisaged that the Minister shall appoint a certain number of whole-time members to the Board. It does not say how many, and I believe that I am right in saying that it is not obligatory on the Minister to appoint any whole-time members, not even the Chairman. I do not want to enter into the old controversy about whether the Board of a great undertaking should consist simply of a panel of whole-time experts and technicians or whether it should consist of people with outside interests and, therefore, presumably a wider outlook. That matter has been debated over many, many years. On the Continent their system is different from our own: there,
they have both managerial and supervisory boards. Here, many of our successful companies have boards consisting entirely of whole-time fully paid experts, while others have mixed boards. I believe that up to now the general consensus of opinion has been in favour of the mixed board, with a certain number of whole-time experts and a certain number of people with outside interests serving part-time, who bring the benefit of their experience and knowledge to the board.
§ As I say, I do not want to go into this old controversy. What we are asking for is a mixed Board, and to be sure that it is a mixed Board the Amendment asks that the Chairman and at least four others shall be full-time salaried members, entitled, after a certain number of years, to pensions. In another place, my right honourable and honourable friends moved for half of the Board to be whole-time salaried pensionable members—that is, half the Board of a minimum of nine and a maximum of fourteen members. We are more modest than that: we are asking only for a chairman and four others. I hope that our modesty will be rewarded and that the Government will be able to accept this Amendment. One reason why I think it is necessary to have some whole-time pensionable members is that it is laid down in the Bill that a certain number of members of the Board should represent organisations of the workers—in other words, trade unions—and it will not be easy to get good men to serve as part-time members. They have to give up other things to do so; they may not have private means—probably they will not—and we cannot expect men who have attained great positions in the trade union world to accept a seat on this Board unless it is a whole-time position, carrying with it an appropriate salary and pension rights. I am advised that unless we do that it will be most difficult for the kind of people we want to accept positions on the Board.
§ There is another argument that I would put forward. It is common knowledge that when the late Government passed the Iron and Steel Act setting up the Corporation, there was a great pressure front the industry, which was opposed to the Act and its policy, to prevent professional iron and steel people from serving upon the Corporation. We were fortunate in getting Colonel Hardie, in 895 my opinion and in the opinion of many others as well. There was great difficulty in finding prominent and well-known members of the industry to serve, because of the professional pressure from their colleagues in Steel House against their serving. They were told that nationalisation was only a temporary arrangement and that they should not go into the scheme and should make it as difficult for the Government as they could. I am sorry to say that that argument carried some weight. That is another reason why we should have a certain number of posts that are whole-time, carrying an appropriate salary and pension—in order that the man prepared to burn his boats may feel able to join the Board. I do not know whether the same sort of pressure is going to be brought to bear on people in the industry not to serve on the Board—I hope not; but if there is, it is necessary to have a certain modicum of whole-time posts in which there is some security and which professional iron and steel people can fill.
§ I do not know what the present Government, if they remain in office, are prepared to do in regard to the Board. We oppose this Bill, but as the Government are insistent and obstinate in passing it through, we are trying to make the best we can of it and improve it where improvement is possible. It may be that the Government really mean to make the Board an effective instrument for the supervision of the industry and the carrying out of a national policy with regard to iron and steel. I do not know. On the other hand, it is not impossible that if the Conservatives remain in office, they may allow this Board to wither away. Like Lenin, who insisted in his first pronouncement on the future of Socialism that the State must "wither away," the Government in this case may allow the Board to wither away. The Minister could, in effect, kill it. We hope that that will not be the case. We hope that the Government will take a wide view of the national interest and make the Board really effective. But we believe that if it is to be really effective there must be a certain number of whole-time people, including the Chairman, who will give their time to this important work in the national interest and not be occupied with outside activities.896
§ I would remind your Lordships that, as the Bill is drawn, it is not necessary to have any full-time members at all. I do not know whether the noble Marquess will say that nothing is further from the Government's thoughts than not to appoint whole-time members, but that they want flexibility. I dare say we shall be told that when the original Act went through under the Socialist Government, the then Minister of Supply, my right honourable friend Mr. Strauss, also pleaded for flexibility. I hope that argument is not going to be used, because the two cases are not analogous. We were setting up a Corporation of tremendous powers with a great future in front of it. This Bill sets up a Board which has not great powers—that is one of our complaints, and we hope to give it more powers before the Bill passes through your Lordships' House. The argument about flexibility and freedom to manœuvre does not apply to the same extent. There are many other arguments that could be put forward, but I think I have said enough to show that there are solid reasons for this Amendment, and I hope that the Government will accept it. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 30, at end, insert ("of whom the Chairman and at least four other members shall be whole-time members").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ LORD WINSTER
In supporting this Amendment I must confess my surprise that the Bill is imprecise upon this important point. I say "imprecise," but that is a polite word to use; I must confess that I think it is rather sloppy. This Board will have most important duties of supervision confided to it, and a supervising body must be a strong body. This Board must not be a sham and a camouflage to make the public believe that a public control exists when, in fact, such control does not exist. In view of its duties, this Board really ought not to be, in the main, a part-time affair. Look at its duties. The Board is going to be charged with control of prices, of development, of the supply of raw materials; and it has to produce plans for the modernisation and expansion of the industry. It will be responsible for relations with the Iron and Steel Federation, and will exercise supervision over some 2,400 companies. The Board must 897 exercise a thoroughgoing supervision. But as regards the composition of the Board, the Bill, in its terms gives no assurance whatever that such composition will, in fact, be thoroughgoing. We do not want the Board to exercise day-to-day control of the industry; that would be absurd, and would not be at all helpful. But we do want a Board which will produce a development plan, will see that all concerned conform to that plan, and will not seek to pursue private interest, as I fear they may be inclined to do if supervision is not rigorous.
Such duties as I have enumerated are not duties for part-timers. I believe there is force in the argument that the Minister, in appointing the Board, wants to enjoy a certain latitude and flexibility. But why not say in the Bill that the Board shall consist of a certain number of members, of whom a substantial number shall be full-time? Surely, it is reasonable to provide that a substantial number of the Board shall be full-time members. There is all the more reason for being precise in this matter because, if we look at Clause 20, line 17, we see that it says there that full-time members are contemplated. Therefore, if the Bill contemplates the appointment of certain full-time members, why be shy about it? Why not define, in some terms or other, what number of full-time members is contemplated? As the Bill is drafted at present, if the Minister were to appoint one full-time member, the terms of the Bill would be satisfied. Since it is perfectly clear from the duties imposed upon this Board that they are duties which are such as to demand the full-time attention of a certain number of the members, why not accept this Amendment, or some wording to the effect that a substantial number of the Board shall be full-time members?
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
I feel that this is an extremely modest Amendment, and it is certainly one about which it can be said that there is nothing of Party politics involved in it. At this stage, it is unnecessary to argue that there should be full-time members of the Board, because that argument has been well put by my noble friends who have just spoken. In any case, the argument has already been accepted by the Government. The 898 Minister, speaking in the other place, said:It is our intention that a proportion of the Board, including the chairman, should be full-time members.What we are really asking is that the Government's intention in the matter should be expressed in the Bill. The membership of this Board may be anything from ten to fifteen. All we are asking by this Amendment is that five of these members, including the Chairman, should be full-time members of the Board. My own view is that at least half of the members of the Board should be full-time; that is to say, if the Minister appoints the full number of fifteen, then seven or eight of them should be full-time members. The point at issue is simply whether the Bill is to express the intention which the Minister has indicated in another place. I can fully understand his reluctance to have his handstied too tightly; but less than five out of ten is unthinkable, if the Board is to function effectively; and even five out of ten would be a small proportion. In either case, the Minister is left with ample latitude for that flexibility he wants in the making of his appointments.
I am bound to say that to refuse the proposal that there should be five full-time members would rather indicate that the Ministers intention was not a serious one. What is more important is that a refusal to accept that there should be five full-time members would strengthen the suspicion that the Board is not intended to play a serious part in the future of the industry; that it is, in fact, intended to be more or less a rubber stamp for Steel House. If that suspicion is unfounded, then there is an easy way to dispel it—namely, to accept that there shall be at least five full-time members of the Board, thereby indicating that the Board is intended to play a full, serious and worthwhile part in the future of this important industry.
During the first year or two of which I had the honour to be a member of your Lordships' House I often heard the argument put from the other side, "If that is your intention, why not put it in the Bill?" I am bound to say that there were many occasions—though not on every occasion—even when that argument was resisted, when I felt it was well-founded. But I have never known a case where it was better founded than here. 899 The Minister has said that it is his intention to have full-time Members. We are only asking the Government to put that intention in the Bill. Why not have five out of ten, or five out of up to fifteen full-time members? Show that the Board is intended to be serious by accepting this Amendment; and, what is possibly more important, show that attitude of give-and-take, that attitude of both sides of the House contributing to make this a better Bill, by accepting this first Amendment.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I do not think there is really a very great deal between us in this matter. Naturally, I have not agreed with everything which has been said by noble Lords opposite, but there are two points on which we can certainly all agree. The first is that there is room for argument concerning the precise desirable composition of this Board or, indeed, of any other board. I dare suppose that if the three noble Lords who have just spoken were to be taken aside separately and asked to give their honest opinion as to how the Board should eventually be constituted, their three opinions would all differ. I dare suppose that none of them—
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think he would find that we were unanimous on the minimum number of full-time members.
§ LORD MANCROFT
That may well be, but that is not actually what I said. I think there would be a fourth opinion if the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, were in his place, because your Lordships will remember the very strong views on this subject which he expressed. I should like to remind your Lordships of the Government's intention concerning the composition of this Board—it has already been stated by the Minister in another place, and the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, has touched slightly upon it this afternoon. First of all, there should be a Chairman who, in the Government's view, should be independent and full-time—that is to say, not connected with the iron and steel industry, and if he comes from the industry then he severs his connections with it; then a nucleus of full-time members which should include, if possible, men 900 drawn from both sides of the industry, a consumer and possibly also an independent member. The third element should be part-time members, some drawn from within industry—when I say "within industry" I do not mean only the iron and steel industry, but industry, and, of course, from both sides of industry: consumer industry as well as the iron and steel industry.
In addition we want some people not engaged in industry—that is to say, independent members with experience of administration, business, science and so forth. These qualifications are set out in the Bill. Steel producers on the Board should not number more than about three, and there should be equal representation of the trade union side in the iron and steel industry. These are the general ideas of the Government and they are well known, I am certain, to noble Lords opposite. I do not think noble Lords opposite would differ very much, and I do not think that I should differ very much, from what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has in mind as his final ideal Board. The next point, on which quite certainly we have no difference of opinion at all, is this. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, expressed the opinion that the Government were desirous of seeing that this Board was both strong and effective, and, of course, he is completely right. We are desirous of seeing that it is both strong and effective, and I should have thought that was obvious throughout the whole length and breadth of the Bill.
The only point upon which we differ is on this question of flexibility. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, skated, I thought, a little uneasily over the observations of his colleague, Mr. Strauss, who was at the time of the 1948 Act the Minister in charge. I should like to remind your Lordships what it was Mr. Strauss said in another place on this very subject. Here I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, because I think that the arguments advanced there apply doubly today to the point we are discussing this afternoon. This is what Mr. Strauss, the Minister then in charge of that Bill, said:It would be quite foolish for Parliament to lay down now the exact proportions of full-time or part-time membership, or even to say that there must be a certain number of part-time members. I think part-time members of a Corporation of this sort would be invaluable, but experience might show that ten full-time members are needed at a certain stage; I do 901 not know. I ask the Committee not to limit the Minister in his make-up of the Corporation, to leave it flexible, to avoid rigidity at all costs. Only in that way will the Minister be able to adapt the Corporation in numbers, proportion, and balance, according to the requirements of the situation. It may only be possible to see, after some experience of a year or two, what is the best proportion. It may be that after the Corporation has been working for some time the situation may be different and the proportion may have to be changed. I am sure it would be wrong to lay down here and now what the exact proportion should be, and I therefore hope the Committee will not ask the Government to do so.That Corporation had much more power on paper than this Board, but the arguments seem to me almost exactly applicable. I can find no sentiment in Mr. Strauss's remarks that would not apply equally strongly to this argument this afternoon.
I quite agree, as I say again, that the final composition of the Board may be exactly what noble Lords opposite have in mind. But I do ask them to agree with the sentiments expressed by Mr. Strauss, that the Minister should be given a completely free hand, his intentions being well-known both to the House and to the country, so that he may choose, at the time and place he makes his choice, the best and the strongest Board possible. For that reason, whilst agreeing with many of the sentiments expressed opposite, appreciating what noble Lords have in mind and what they seek to do, I very much regret that the Government cannot see their way to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
We have listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said, because it seems to me that he has committed the Government to a number of steps which are certainly not in the Bill—or perhaps I have not searched it diligently enough. He said, first of all, that the Chairman is to be full-time. There is nothing about that in the Bill. If the intention of the Government is that the Chairman should be full-time, let it be put in the Bill; because what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, says is charged with great authority but it is not law unless it is in the Bill. If it really is true, as he says, that the Chairman is to be full-time, that, at any rate, can go in the Bill. The noble Lord went on to say that it is the intention of the Government 902 to appoint equal numbers of members from what he called both sides of the industry—no doubt meaning owners and workers. Is that the intention? The Minister of Supply in another place did not say so, and there is nothing in the Bill. If the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is committing the Government now to equal numbers, then let it be put in the Bill. Before we pass this Bill we have a right to know what in fact it is going to do.
The remarks of Mr. Strauss in another place had regard to something quite different from this Board. They had regard to the Iron and Steel Corporation, whose functions were radically and altogether different from the functions of this Board. What he said certainly applied to the Iron and Steel Corporation who, of course, had the function of owning the entire industry. This is not an ownership body. This is described as a supervisory body and, as we shall discuss later on, we feel that its powers of supervision are very nebulous and its instruments very weak. But at any rate we have a right to know that some people are going to be serious about it. Now I am not one of those who believe that all public bodies should be composed exclusively of full-time members. I believe it is very desirable to have part-time members who still retain the contacts from which they really derive their value to the Board. But it is equally necessary that some of the members should be independent of outside interests and should be able to give the Board the whole of their time and attention and, no less important, should have no other interests. There is therefore, I submit, an unanswerable case for the Chairman and for some of the members to be full-time members. The Amendment which my noble friends have put down asks only for a minority of the members to be full-time; and I think it is an unhappy harbinger of the temperature in which we are going to pursue this matter if, on a business matter of this kind, the Government cannot state in the Bill what their intentions are. I hope that something further will be said on this subject before we leave it.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I do not see that there is very much between the two sides of the House on this matter. The noble Lord who has just sat down said 903 that in the original Iron and Steel Act the functions of the Corporation were very different from those which the Board now being set up will have. He said that the Corporation owned the whole steel industry, and that this Board will have very nebulous powers. He came to the odd conclusion, after those two premises, that the Board should be more clearly defined when it had nebulous powers than when it was going to own and run the whole industry; and that therefore Mr. Strauss, speaking in another place, was right when he said that you could have a nebulous Board with exact powers, but that if you had nebulous powers—as the noble Lord calls the ones proposed under the present Bill—then you must have a clearly defined Board. That was what the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, really amounted to, if I may put it as crudely as that.
What does the Amendment seek to do? It seeks to provide that the Chairman and at least four other members should be whole-time members. But the position proposed by the Government as I understand it, is that the constitution of the Board shall be flexible. And although the intention certainly is that the Chairman shall be a full-time member—
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I understood the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to say that the Chairman was going to be a full-time member, though I agree that the Bill does not say so. At the same time, I did not understand as clearly as the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, appears to have done that the other members were to come equally from the two sides of the industry. The question arises whether we ought to define that position in the Bill, and whether we should say that the Chairman shall be full-time and that at least four of the other members shall be whole-time members. It may become apparent in practice that there should be only two whole-time members, or it may become apparent that there should be eight whole-time members. The difficulty about putting in any number such as four is that it may appear thereafter as though Parliament had meant it to be four, and four exactly.
904 For many years past, we have had minimum wages worked out for different industries in this country; and those of us who have studied the minimum wage problem always found that the minimum wage tended to become the maximum wage. I suggest, therefore, that if the Bill states that there shall be "at least" four full-time members, it will come to be considered later on as meaning "at most" four full-time members. I think it would be far better, after looking at this matter broadly, when the Government are in a position to appoint this Board under the Act, for them to say how many of these members shall be whole-time and how many part-time, and to leave it to Parliament afterwards to say to the Minister, if it thinks fit, that he has not selected the right proportion. I should have thought that in a matter of this kind, this Government, as was the case with the Socialist Government with regard to the original Iron and Steel Act, were quite right to ask for a free hand.
§ EARL JOWITT
As the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, has reminded us, if there is one thing that rings in one's memory, and has done so since the six years' period when I was Lord Chancellor, it is the cry from the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, "Put it in the Bill." If I learned anything, I learned that. To-day, we have the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in a speech of great charm—if I may say so, I never heard anybody turn down an Amendment with such sweet reasonableness—saying that the Chairman is going to be a whole-time person, a fact which does not appear in the Bill. I can only retort, therefore, "Put it in the Bill." I cannot see why you do not do so. If you want to meet us, put this in the Bill. Then an appeal was made to some words used by Mr. Strauss in another place. After all, if you are going throughout this Bill to regard the observations made by Mr. Strauss as having a kind of god-like quality of authority, that is "all right by me"; but if the Government are going to pay lip service to the observations of Mr. Strauss on this occasion only, and after that to regard the observations of Mr. Strauss as not being authoritative, I cannot see the point. The Government cannot have it both ways. Whether Mr. Strauss was right or wrong I do not know, and I do not care what he said on that 905 occasion—it seems to me that the circumstances are different. But I repeat that I should like to have something in the Bill.
I was astounded to hear the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I have listened to him for many years, greatly to my advantage and interest, but I do not think I have ever heard him less happy than he was to-day. With the greatest respect to Lord Llewellin, it is not my experience that the minimum generally becomes the maximum. My experience is that the maximum generally becomes the minimum. That is the criticism that has always been levied. We are not asking that the number of full-time members shall be defined precisely; we are asking that it shall not be less than four, in addition to the Chairman. The position of the Chairman has already been conceded. If four is too many, then give us three; go some way to meet us, and put it in the Bill.
If you are going to have representatives of the trade unions, it is exceedingly difficult, for reasons which we all understand, to see how that will work unless they are full-time members. I am glad to see the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, is now present. I have just been praying in aid his—I will not call it raucous cry, but constant reiteration of the statement, "Put it in the Bill." I wish I had a gramophone record here of the noble Viscount saying it. I am sure I learned the lesson he taught me throughout the years, and I am now asking the Government to put in the Bill that which they say they intend to do. I think that that is a matter on which the Government could go some way to meet us. I repeat that if four is too many, let it be three. But put something in the Bill about it. This is not a matter on which I shall ask my noble friends to divide the House, but I would ask the Government to see, either now or between now and the Report stage, whether there is not something here which they can give us which accords with their own sense of what is right and desirable.
§ 3.10 p.m.
I wonder why, when the Opposition are not in office, they want one thing, and when they are not in office, they want another. I do not want to repeat the arguments put forward 906 by Mr. Strauss, which are all well known to us now; but surely it would be better to leave the matter flexible and to see how many full-time members are required after some experience of running the Board. I think there is some argument for the Chairman being a full-time member, but you might seek the services of a Chairman who was very experienced and most suitable for the job but who was unable for other reasons to give his full time. Personally, I should prefer to leave the clause as it has been drawn.
§ LORD WINSTER
I have only two, remarks to make, arising out of the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. As I understand the noble Lord, he concedes the point about a full-time Chairman, and I certainly understood him to speak of three interests at least which would require to be fully represented on the Board. So that would make, a Chairman and three other interests to be full-time members, and we are only asking for four. There is really, then, only one full-time member between us. I should have thought that the noble Lord might easily concede that point. As regards the remarks quoted from Strauss. I do not think that they were absolutely relevant to the point at issue up to the present moment. What they amounted to was that in respect of, as I think, another matter, Mr. Strauss asked that we give some time and learn by experience what to do. Surely time has elapsed, and we have gained experience. Surely we have gained sufficient experience by now to know whether a Chairman and four full-time members are the least which are requisite for the performance of the duties entrusted to this Board. As for the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, I have never in my life listened to such an exhibition of hairsplitting, and I hope that I may never listen to such an exhibition again. When he suggests that the words "at least" inserted in the Bill will come to be regarded as "at most," I think that is the height of absurdity. I trust no attention whatever will be paid to that remark of the noble Lord.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
I think it unfortunate that the Party which, when they were in Opposition, complained so violently and so often of delegated legislation, 907 should object now to giving Parliament control, to some extent, of the numbers on the Board. I think this is an important matter, and Parliament should consider the question of the structure of these Boards. As my noble friend has said, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since Mr. Strauss made his original statement which has been quoted to-day. When we were in office we learned a good deal the hard way about these various Boards, how they should be formed and how they should be carried on. There is one point that does not seem to me to be strongly stressed to-day, though it was touched on by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi—that is, that we as a House of Parliament ought to ensure that the rank-and-file of the industry have an opportunity of getting on to the Board, because, if there are only part-time members of a Board, who will not of course be pensionable and who will be paid only for part-time service, then the ordinary rank-and-file member, the man who comes up from the bottom, the steel worker, will have very little opportunity to become a member of the Board. We are told, "That will be all right. Of course, the Government will see to it." But why do not we see to it? That is what we are here for. I cannot see why we cannot put into this Bill something that I am sure all of us want—that is, that there should be an opportunity for the man at the bottom of the ladder in the steel industry to climb to the top.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
I think perhaps it would be useful if I said a few words at the end of this debate. I have listened with great interest, as I have no doubt your Lordships have, to the argument advanced on both side, They have been very good-humoured and in no sense unworthy of our general attitude to affairs. Personally, I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, that there is not a great deal of difference between us on this particular point. We are all in agreement, for instance, so far as I understand it from what I have heard, that there are likely to be a number of whole-time members on the Board. I think that is almost certain to be so, though no doubt the number may vary from time to time.
908 As I understand it, the only question between us is: Is it desirable at this stage to tie the Minister's hand in this matter as to the correct course for him to follow in circumstances which may be unknown and which may, as I say, vary from time to time? On that particular point successive Ministers—the responsible Minister in the late Government and the responsible Minister in the present Government—have both taken the same view: quite unequivocally they have both said that it is undesirable to tie the Minister's hand. That is a view, as has been noticed this afternoon, which was expressed quite clearly and definitely by Mr. Strauss at the time of the Labour Government's Iron and Steel nationalisation Bill. I am not going to quote his words again; they have already been quoted by my noble friend, Lord Mancroft. But there can be no doubt as to what he meant. He could not have put it more clearly.
§ LORD SILKIN
Does the noble Marquess happen to know in response to what Amendment that statement was made? Was it not made in response to an Amendment from the Opposition asking for the very thing for which we are now asking?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps the noble Lord will wait until I have finished my remarks, anyhow on this particular argument. Apparently, Mr. Strauss did not convince the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, from what he has said to us this afternoon. I must assume he stood loyally by his Party, because I do not remember his expressing his opposition in any violent form at the time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
In that case, the noble Lord is completely exonerated but, since he has come into the House, I understand he has altered his view. However, that is a matter we can discuss at another time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not want to be at all unfair. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to say something now.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
I should. The point that I made is that during the early years of my membership of this House, 909 when a representative of the Ministry said, "It is our intention to do so and so," I often heard it said, "Well, if that is your intention, put it in the Bill." I am repeating that to-day. I said there were occasions when I thought that, even when that argument was resisted, it was well-founded, but never so well-founded as on this occasion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am sorry if I misrepresented the noble Lord. It is the last thing I intended to do. In any case, whomsoever Mr. Strauss did not convince, he convinced the present Minister of Supply; and the present Minister of Supply, as he has made equally clear, has come to the same conclusion as that to which Mr. Strauss came. We on this side of the House on this particular point agree, naturally, with our colleague the Minister of Supply, and I do not think that noble Lords opposite should complain of that. If we have been convinced by the arguments that Mr. Strauss used at an earlier time, that should be most agreeable to them.
The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in the remarks he has just delivered, used what I thought was one of the oddest arguments that I have ever heard. He said that the Government cannot say that Mr. Strauss was right at one time and then go on to say that he was wrong at all others; that that would be having it both ways. The noble and learned Earl is a great lawyer, and presumably a great logician, too, but is it not just conceivably possible that Mr. Strauss may have been right at one time and wrong at all the others? I only put that forward for the noble Earl's consideration. I would also agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said, that the argument that you must not tie the hands of a Minister is presumably more effective with regard to this Board, which is merely a supervisory body, than it would be even with the much more powerful—at least on paper—executive board which was placed in the Act of the last Government.
Moreover—and here I come to the main point which the noble and learned Earl made—there really is more substance in our difficulty in this matter than noble Lords opposite have perhaps realised. The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, spoke of the position of the Chairman. He said that he understood, from what 910 Lord Mancroft said, that he was to be a "whole-timer." Of course, in the vast majority of cases I am sure that would be true. It would be the object of every Government who had to operate this Bill to find a "whole-timer" who would do this particular job. But it is not inconceivable that there might be an ideal person to act as Chairman of the Board who also had other duties. If that situation arose it would surely be entirely wrong that, by the unduly rigid drafting of an Act, that mar should be debarred from occupying the position. That is the answer I would make to the noble Lord who says, "Put it in the Bill." If it is to be the universal ruling, by all means put it in the Bill; but if it is a case where there might be exceptions (and if there were al exception it would be an important exception), then I think probably in the end it would be wiser not to do so. In fact I feel that this is a very fine opportunity for getting inter-Party agreement, and I hope the Opposition will grasp it, if my words have been at all effective.
It is perfectly true, as Lord Jowitt very rightly said, that this is not a matter of very great moment—it is not one of the great clashes of principle which divide Parties. I think it has proved to be very little more than an agreeable debating point to start the Committee stage of this Bill. If we are to admit, as I think we must, that there is a modicum of common sense in all Parties and, in all Governments, I should have thought that noble Lords in all parts of the House would assume that where it was possible to get a "whole-timer," a "whole-timer" would be appointed—that there would be a varying proportion of "whole-timers" and "half-timers," and in the chair there would be a "whole-timer," if such a person could be found. That is what I think noble Lords opposite really mean, and it is certainly what we mean. I hope, therefore, that they will not find it necessary to press the matter further.
Although we attach considerable importance to this Amendment, I do not think it is worth a Division and I do not propose to press it. My noble friend Lord Jowitt, referring to the charming and gracious speech of Lord Mancroft in answering my points, reminded me of the description applied to a well-known pirate— 911 "as good a man as ever cut a throat or scuttled a ship." What Lord Mancroft said was all very nice, but he gave us nothing; neither did the noble Marquess. We do need flexibility. We ask only for four whole-time members. As for all this play with Mr. Strauss's remarks in another place, after all they were in answer to a Conservative Amendment pressing for the same principle for which we are pressing, although not in analogous circumstances. Mr. Strauss took a line, and now we have the Government sitting on those Benches and they take the other line; the cases are not analogous. I think there is something in what the noble Marquess said in regard to a whole-time Chairman. It is possible to conceive of a man as Chairman who would not wish to make it a whole-time job. In that case I presume there would be a Deputy Chairman. I wonder whether the noble Marquess would consider, at another stage of the Bill, whether or not we should allow for that particular case? I have not consulted my noble friends on this matter, but I think there might be a case for having either a Chairman or a Deputy Chairman as a whole-time member, so as to meet the rare but perhaps important case put forward by the noble Marquess, that of a man who, while suitable in every other way, did not wish to give up his other, outside interests but wished to be Chairman of the Board. We might find words to cover that situation, and perhaps we could have our four members as a quid pro quo.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot give the noble Lord any great hope that we shall alter the view which I have expressed, and for the reasons which I have given, but I will certainly pass on his suggestion to my right honourable friend.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Supervision of iron and steel industry by Board
§ 3.—(1) It shall be the duty of the Board to exercise a general supervision over the iron and steel industry, and to such extent as they may consider necessary the powers conferred 912 on them by this Act, with a view to promoting the efficient, economic and adequate supply under competitive conditions of iron and steel products, and in particular to keep under review—
- (a) the productive capacity of iron and steel producers;
§ Provided that the duty of the Board with respect to the arrangements specified in paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) hereof, other than arrangements for the promotion of research, shall not apply in relation to any undertaking in whose case—
- (i) the Board are satisfied that the main activities of the undertaking are not part of the iron and steel industry, and that the only activities of the undertaking which form part of the iron and steel industry are activities included in paragraph 4 of the Third Schedule to this Act and are incidental to the main activities of the undertaking; and
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON moved in subsection (1), after "supervision" to insert "and control." The noble Lord said: This Amendment inserts two words. As it stands, the clause says that the duty of the Board is to exercise general supervision over the Iron and Steel Industry, and this Amendment adds "and control." I think the attitude of the Government to this Amendment will be important as an indication of what really is their intention about this Board, its duties and its powers, which are fraught with such great importance for the iron and steel industry, for the trade and commerce of the country, and for our very security which depends upon this vital industry. In introducing the Bill to this House on Second Reading the noble Marquess compressed the purposes of the Bill, and the duties of the Board, in what I would describe as a masterly review of the whole rather complicated matter; and if I take only the words which he used, it is clear enough that the duties of this Board are wide, complex and very far-reaching.
§ To begin with, the Board not only encompasses the limits of the industry as comprised by the Iron and Steel Corporation which now exists, but extends over the whole industry in the widest possible way. It has to look after the productive capacity of the industry; it has to make sure of the amplitude of the raw materials available; it has to see that those raw materials are equitably distributed, and it has to look after the supply of fuel for the industry. It has to fix 913 maximum prices for the enormous range of products of the industry; it has to have regard to the whole question of future developments and education within this vast industry; it has to require that nobody shall proceed with major capital developments without its consent, and in certain circumstances it has to arrange for the production, even in countries abroad, of raw materials for the industry. The noble Marquess went on to explain a whole number of other functions which this Board has laid upon it. I think it is a misuse of words merely to describe that vast range of functions as "supervision." If the Board is to be effective, then it is a controlling body and it must have power to make its will felt. To have a Board that is a mere office for asking questions, without any powers—and that is the situation as the Bill is drafted—of inspection or verification of what it is told, is really to make a mockery of the whole thing. If it is necessary to have this Board at all—and the Government say that they are in no doubt about that—then it is necessary for this Board to have power. And if it is to have power, we must face the fact that this is a board of ultimate control, as well as a board of initial supervision.
§ I do not think there is very much more to say on the Amendment, and I hope the Government will indicate that they seriously intend that this industry, in view of its vast public aspects, shall be the servant of the public; owned, managed and run by efficient private enterprise managers and directors, yes, but ultimately responsible to the public interest, and subject to the control of this Board when it is called upon to exercise it. I trust that the Government will accept this Amendment, because it will make an enormous difference to the appreciation of what the real purposes of this Bill are. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 7, after ("supervision") insert ("and control").—(Lord Wilmot of Selmeston.)
§ 3.32 p.m.
The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, has said that the Board should be a controlling body. I am afraid I entirely disagree, because I feel that the Government certainly do not envisage the Board as a kind of super-management imposed over the boards of directors of the individual firms. I think, therefore, 914 it would be wrong to give it any powers of control. The Board would, in fact, be an advisory, guiding body, and it would lead the industry rather than goad it. The members of the industry would look on the Board as a kind of club to which all the firms belonged, and it would provide machinery for co-operation in dealing with the common problems that exist. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not accept this Amendment.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
When the noble Lord describes the Board as an advisory body, does he mean that people will be free to take the Board's advice or to disregard it as they choose?
§ LORD OGMORE
I think that that has about made our case. This is a club, we are told, which members join and from which, presumably, they are expelled if they are not good boys. Some may pay their subscriptions and some may not, some way be on good terms with the secretary and some may not. I do not know that we need say much more. This is what we always feared was in the minds of the Government, but we never believed that it would be so bluntly expressed as it has been to-day. It bears out what the City paper, the Statist said on November 15. It was quoted in another place and I think it will bear quotation here. The Statist said:The terms of the Bill make it difficult to believe that the Board would be in a position effectively to exercise the supervisory functions it has been authorised to perform. In the circumstances the Board would be likely to become either an ineffective nuisance or a rubber stamp for the trade associations.To-day, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has added to that description of the Board as an "ineffective nuisance or rubber stamp" that it will be a club, the members of which will be able to leave if they wish, and a club over which there will be little control by the Committee or anyone else.
This is a very serious matter, and we attach great importance to this Amendment, because already the steel industry is concerned about the future of steel and 915 the future of those who work in the steel industry. I have here three reports which have appeared in the last month or two in the Western Mail, which circulates very widely indeed in the steel area in Wales. These reports all express concern, not by members of the Labour Party—at least I presume they are not—but by leaders of the steel industry. According to one report which was published on the sixteenth of the present month, Colonel J.M. Bevan, Chairman of the Briton Ferry Steel Company said:I doubt whether we shall be able to get enough scrap to enable us to keep working, so there is as much danger of redundancy in the steel trade as in the tinplate trade.Your Lordships know that there have been thousands of men out of work in the tinplate industry.
Recently I ventured during the Second Reading debate on this Bill to quote what was said by Mr. E. H. Lever, Chairman of the Steel Company of Wales speaking at Port Talbot. According to the report published in the Western Mail on March 20 he said that the scale of modern industrial organisation meant that money was wanted on a large scale. The great industries wanted to count on having the money as and when they needed it. He continued:The money may not be there at the right time and the right price. Indeed it may not really be there at all.Mr. I for B. N. Evans has written an article which has been published in the Western Mail in which he gives ample evidence of the fact that steel is meeting a very serious challenge by reason of the new alloys and the new methods of producing iron, which were not even in existence a year or two ago, and that the steel industry has to meet a serious position which may affect not only the industry itself but the livelihoods of many thousands of men and the prosperity of great districts in this country. In those circumstances it would seem to call for ample control by the Board.
If the Board has no control, if it is, as we have heard to-day, to be merely an advisory body, how can it take the necessary measures to forestall disaster and put the industry on the right road? This is, indeed, in my opinion, a difficult time, when we do not know what the call for steel is going to be and when we need 916 far more control even than we have had in the past. This is no time for a lessening of control. During the last few years, since the war and during the war, every scrap of steel that could be produced was urgently needed, but it may be that we shall not be in that position much longer. If, as we all hope, the Korean war is coming to a close, if there is a better climate of opinion in the world between the countries behind the Iron Curtain and those in the West, it may be that rearmament will be reduced in scale and that steel will be made available in much greater quantities for civilian production.
At the same time it is possible, in the consequential adjustment which the industries will have to make from what is virtually war economy to peace economy that they will go through a temporary slump. In those circumstances we may find that, as is already the case with tinplate—tinplate, as your Lordships know is very largely steel; there is only 1 lb. of tin to 56 steel sheets, so that although we call it by another name it is in fact steel—we may find a very serious recession in the case of steel. In those circumstances that is the very time when control is needed. Up to now we have had control to a large extent of the purchasing of steel. We have said who may purchase steel. It may be that in the future we shall need to have some control of the production of steel—at all events for a short time in the period of adjustment. In the circumstances, I submit strongly that it is not only desirable but necessary to give power—full power of control, not merely advisory power of supervision—to ensure that the steel is produced where it should be produced in the national interest and in the interests of the community in which we live. For those reasons, I strongly support this Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I find myself in some difficulty in interpreting the functions of the Board. On reading the Bill I imagined that the Board had functions both of supervision and control and I thought the purpose of the Amendment was largely to make that clear. But there appears to be some misunderstanding on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for whom I have a great respect and for whose ability I have a high regard, must have read the Bill many 917 times over, yet his view is that the functions of the Board are purely advisory. I feel it is important that the position should be made abundantly clear. My reading of the Bill is that there are certain functions of control given to the Board. For example, it has control, and I should have thought absolute control, over the provision of additional production facilities. It can say "Yea" or "Nay," subject, of course, to appeal to the Minister. Under Clause 6, application is made to the Board, and it is in a position to give a decision. That is something more than advisory.
Then, under Clause 8 it is entrusted with the duty of fixing maximum prices and these prices become binding upon all steel producers. That is something more than merely advisory. Moreover, later on in the Bill, it is given power to apply for an injunction in the courts in respect of any breach of Clauses 6 or 8. Therefore, I fail to understand how it can be contended that the only powers conferred upon the Board are advisory powers. Since there is this difficulty of interpretation, or doubt about interpretation, and since, as I contend—and I shall be glad to hear whether the noble Marquess agrees with me or not—that the Board has definite powers of control, I should have thought it right to have these words inserted in the Bill so that there may be no doubt whatever about what is the position of the Board.
This Amendment was discussed fat some length in another place and some objection was taken to it, not on the ground put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, but on the ground that it is undesirable to say in terms that the Board should have power of control, because control is a bad thing and it is not desirable to interfere with the day-to-day functions of the various concerns. But the word "control," is not necessarily evil; it depends upon the extent of control. If the purpose of the control is merely to enable the particular functions that are conferred upon the Board by the Bill to be properly exercised—and I do not think anyone would claim that the Amendment means more than that—adding the words "and control" cannot mean more than control for the purposes of the Bill, and this is purely a clarifying Amendment. To show that the Amendment is not in any sense fanciful, I should like to quote from the Second Reading 918 speech of the Minister on November 25, 1952. He may have said this in an unguarded moment, but this is what he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 508, col. 267):I think it is common ground between us, on both sides of the House, that some measure of public supervision and control is necessary in the iron and steel industry. The main question is whether that necessary supervision and control can be obtained without State ownership.Obviously, the Minister himself contemplated a measure of control as well as supervision. Therefore, I suggest that the insertion of these words is merely carrying out what is a fact under the Bill and what seems to be the intention of the Minister.
§ 3.45 p.m.
May I suggest that the noble Lords, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston and Lord Ogmore, made a mistake in reading the first two lines of this clause without going on to lines 3 and 4? The first two lines give directions about general supervision and the third and fourth lines go on to deal with powers. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned that, but it seems to me that when noble Lords are arguing their case, the whole meaning of the first subsection should be taken and not only of the first two lines.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
If the noble Lord agrees that the Board should have powers of control as well as supervision, then that should be put in the Bill.
§ LORD WINSTER
I support this Amendment because I regard it as an acid test of the sincerity of the Government's intentions. Do the Government intend to use the Board for doing real business? The Amendment seeks to give the Board the necessary powers to make their supervision effective. The words "general supervision" crop up in this Bill, but general supervision necessitates powers which the Bill does not give to the Board. If it is intended that the Board shall control the industry, their powers ought to be correspondingly strong and effective, and also clearly defined. But the powers are not clearly defined in the Bill. The only power which is so defined is the power to maximum prices. There is another power which is defined—in order to add to the superfluity of 919 paper which is already clogging Whitehall: the Board may make reports. The Board cannot, for example, inspect works, but if on hearsay they think that a given works needs either enlarging or altering they can make a report on the matter. But they cannot do anything more. The Board enjoy no power of control whatsoever to have things which they think wrong put right. Refusal of the Amendment by the Government will certainly cause us to believe that the statement quoted by the Statist is completely right, and that the Government intend this to be a rubber stamp Board for the purpose of "eyewash" for the public.
As I have said, although the word "supervision" is constantly cropping up, the Bill gives us no definition whatsoever of what it means. How can there be effective supervision without control? The thing is completely impossible. And without that control the public interest cannot be fully satisfied. The public interest may not be identical with that of the directors and of the shareholders, but the interests of the directors and shareholders may certainly prevail unless the Board have powers of control. It is within the memory of all of us that at Jarrow under private enterprise there was a case in which certainly the national interest did not prevail. As a matter of fact, the Minister has admitted this point by reserving to himself specifically in the Bill certain powers which are exercisable on strategic grounds. In other words, in the specific instance, the Minister recognises that he requires certain powers of control in order to safeguard the public interest, but he does so only on a very narrow issue.
There is one other point to which I should particularly like to call attention. The Trades Union Congress have had this matter under consideration. The T.U.C. proposed a Board with the powers which they regarded as necessary for the public interest. Among these powers were the following: the power to compel private firms to undertake development; power for the Board to set up their own undertakings; power for the Board to maintain and improve wages, hours and conditions; power to give the workers a say in the politics of the industry and participation in management; power to provide for price stability and efficient 920 organisation. Noble Lords opposite may or may not agree that those powers are desirable, but the interesting point is that the present Prime Minister, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, said that he would—and I use his words:accept the compromise solution which the Trades Union Congress have set before us.As Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister accepted these proposals of the Trades Union Congress, but as Prime Minister he is responsible for bringing forward a Bill which mentions none of these things at all. I repeat, acceptance or rejection of this Amendment will provide an acid test of the sincerity of the Government's intentions in bringing forward this Bill, and will also be an interesting commentary on the undertaking of the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, to accept the proposals put forward by the Trades Union Congress, of which the present Bill makes no mention whatever.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, made it quite clear when he introduced this Amendment that the Party of noble Lords opposite regard it as of the first importance. I am not surprised to hear that. After all, a similar Amendment was, I understand, introduced by his Party both during the Committee stage and on the Report stage of the Bill in another place, and on one of those occasions, at least, it was pressed to a Division. I shall not be greatly surprised, in view of what I have heard in this debate, if the Opposition take the same step here. Indeed, I think it is easy to understand why they attach so much importance to this Amendment. It would perhaps be unfair to them—and I do not want to be unfair—to describe this merely as a wrecking Amendment, because to describe it as that would be to indicate that it is purely negative in character, whereas, in fact, the motive is a very positive one. I have been told during recent years of terrifying operations in surgery—I believe they have even been tried, but at any rate they have been in contemplation—the purpose of which is not, of course, to kill the patient but entirely to alter his character. I suggest that this Amendment approximates closely to those operations. The whole purpose of it, as I understand it, is to insinuate into the measure which we have 921 before Parliament the full conception of centralised control which was inherent in their own Act.
I do not blame noble Lords opposite for doing that; it is natural that they should, because that is the type of social and industrial structure in which they believe. But clearly they cannot expect the Government to accept it, because to do so would be to cut across the whole purpose of our Bill. If we were willing to put in Amendments of this kind, we might as well not have introduced the Bill at all. Our view, as noble Lords opposite know, is that, in order to stimulate the fullest enlistment of private enterprise and initiative in the national interest a wide measure of centralised control, even of general control, will not normally be necessary. I do not expect noble Lords opposite to agree with that, but that is our convinced view. As I said in my Second Reading speech, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, has already referred, under this scheme that we are introducing, the Board will have wide duties. It will have the duty of concerning itself with all aspects affecting efficient, economic and adequate production; that is to say, the scope of its supervision is a wide one. But we believe—and we intend to prove our case—that the work of the Board will best be done by persuasion, by influence and by cooperation, rather than by autocratic control and it is our view that, in the long run, the results achieved will be achieved by the Board and industry as partners, rather than by the more rigid relationship of controllers and controlled. The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, and others who have spoken, evidently do not believe that, and they have used their great persuasive and forensic power in order to support their views. They think it is impossible to secure efficient co-operation of industry—at all events, of this industry with which we are concerned this afternoon—without the ultimate control being in the hands of the centralised body. They cannot believe anything else; it would be contrary to their faith to do so.
I feel that it is only necessary for us to say in reply—and I would say it, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who spoke with great force on this subject—that, so far as I know, there is no evidence over the last twenty years that would support their thesis. On the contrary, I should have thought that all the 922 evidence went to show that not only had this industry been very efficient before ever nationalisation was introduced, but also that the industry was only too anxious to co-operate with the Government of the day, and to co-ordinate all its activities by a voluntary act. If that is so, surely a less onerous, a less rigid and less clamping method of supervision is more likely to achieve the objects which all of us have in view, rather than a heavy, clumsy, rigid and over-centralised machine. I am not saying anything very new in this speech, but that is the view which we take. It is also the answer I would make to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, about "eyewash" and a "rubber stamp." We think this is the right way to do it; the noble Lord, Lord Winster, does not think so. I rather resented that he should charge us with insincerity. He said that whether we accepted the Amendment would be a test of our sincerity. I do not think that is fair. Here are two broad differences of principle, two schools of thought. I am not going to say that noble Lords opposite are not sincere in their views, and I do not think they should say that we are.
I repeat, the whole basis of our broad industrial philosophy is voluntary co-operation, not centralised direction. I should have thought that it was the supreme merit of our scheme that the Government have not taken the attitude that there should be no modification whatever of those proposals. It has been suggested to-day that the duties of this Board will be merely supervisory. That is not so, and other noble Lords have pointed it out. We fully recognise that there are certain limited spheres where some measure of control is necessary, especially to deal with abnormal circumstances that may arise. These powers can be found in Clauses 6, 8 and 11; they affect prices, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred, development, and also, as your Lordships know, powers to secure adequate arrangements for imports, both of raw materials and of finished steel, to meet a possible emergency. I do not say that that emergency is a probable one: I do not think it is. But we have taken steps to deal with the possibility. These powers which we have taken—because we hope we are realistic about these things—have been deliberately made 923 the minimum that is necessary for those purposes, and they are entirely different from the general control which is proposed in the Amendment. After all, that general control which the two little words would put into this Bill would in effect transfer all the ultimate responsibility from the firms themselves to the Board, and that is just what we do not want.
There is also, of course, a general power to get information, but I think that may be regarded as the raw material—if I may use such an expression in this connection—to enable the Board to exercise its power of supervision. For the reasons which I have stated I think it is quite evident—it must be evident both to noble Lords on this side of the House and on the other side of the House—that the Government could not possibly accept this Amendment. I say that in all sincerity. It would strike at the very roots of our Bill, and, indeed, I am quite certain that it is intended to do that. In this matter I contend that we are not the reactionaries—we are the moderate evolutionary progressives. It is noble Lords opposite who are the reactionaries, as the country is beginning to find out. If they want to divide the House we cannot prevent them, but with a very clear conscience we shall go into the Lobby against them.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
There can be no doubt now about the Government's purpose. The noble Marquess has stated it with his usual clarity and more than his usual vehemence. The purpose of the Bill is to set up an advisory body, and units within the industry will be free to accept or disregard the advice as they think fit. The supervision amounts to nothing at all except the power to ask for information which the Board has no power to verify, to give such advice as it may think fit and then go home. No wonder the Government were reluctant to comply with our request that we should know how many full-time members there were! You do not need full-time members just to give advice and leave it at that.
It seems to me that the noble Marquess has overlooked one fundamental aspect of this matter. If the Government are serious—and I believe they are—in believing that they have a right to expect 924 units of private industry, controlled by directors who are elected by groups of shareholders and who are charged by their office and Articles of Association with the business of conducting that enterprise for the profit of the shareholders, to put their public duty before the interests of their shareholders, then he has the obligation of insisting that other people do the same. It is as though the tax collector were not armed with any powers of compulsion but relied upon the taxpayer as a patriotic citizen to pay his dues. The noble Marquess knows very well that unless the recalcitrant and the unpatriotic can be brought to task, the whole thing falls to pieces; and that is what will happen with these illusory powers of supervision.
In view of the statement of the noble Marquess, the Bill could now be altered in another sense. This is not a supervisory Board, it is an advisory Board; to call it anything else is to use the wrong term and to mislead the public. At any rate, there is now no possibility of misunderstanding. The noble Marquess has gone back on the words of the present Minister of Supply. The Minister of Supply stated quite clearly in another place—my noble friend Lord Silkin has already quoted the speech—that it is agreed on both sides of the House that some measure of public supervision and control is necessary in the iron and steel industry. The question is whether it is necessary that that supervision and control should involve State ownership. Now this Bill does away with State ownership. We are not arguing that at this stage.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lords says that I am going back on the Minister of Supply. This is what I said: It has been suggested in certain quarters that the functions of the Board would be purely supervisory; that is not true. I went on to say that I fully recognized that there are certain limited spheres where a measure of control would be necessary. I then very briefly explained what those powers were, and I said that they are the minimum necessary for those purposes and were very different from the control envisaged in the Amendment. I never said that they were supervisory.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
I am indebted to the noble Marquess. He 925 did, in fact, clearly define the limits of such control as is necessary, and he defined those limits as being the limits of an emergency only. Clause 11 in the Bill, the "Emergency clause," says, "Unless there is an emergency." According to the noble Marquess those are no powers of control—
§ THY MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But does the noble Lord wish for powers of control when there is no need? An emergency is when the powers are required.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
The difference between the noble Marquess and myself and my noble friends is that whereas he sees the need for control only in the case of an emergency, we see the need for control before the emergency arises. Surely the experience of the non-preparation for Hitler's war convinces us that preparation in the iron and steel industry should have been made at a time when they were closing down works and throwing people out of employment. This is the very crux of the matter. It may be at the very time when the industry is unprofitable that the public interest demands that it should pursue certain unprofitable operations. By its very nature, the responsibility placed upon this industry is such that it cannot be guided solely by the measurement of individual private profit. That is not the job of the directors; it is not a matter of political philosophy or Party arguing. It is a matter of the intrinsic, basic character of the iron and steel industry, and it is because we know from experience that it is necessary to have regard to the public
§ interest and the defence interest—not only in an emergency, but when things look quiet and when times are bad—that we think that control necessary. Therefore, as the noble Marquess has thought, we shall press this matter to a Division, because we believe that the whole purpose of the Bill and the future of the industry is at stake.
§ LORD LAYTON
In that event, I and my colleagues shall vote with the Government. We shall do so because the Bill does three things. First, it speaks of general supervision; secondly, it gives specific powers in relation to prices and to production programmes in regard to which there is a very powerful sanction—namely, that the Government itself may do the job if the trade does not do it; and, thirdly, there are certain items which have to be kept under review. It happens that those are the things which I think are the right things to put into this Bill. I should not be afraid of the word "control." If we put in the words "supervision and control" I do not think it would add anything to the functions of the Board in regard to the Bill—at least, I have heard no argument to indicate that it would, except for the statements made on this side of the House, which seem to imply that it does add something. I do not know what it is, and, so far as I am concerned, I do not wish at this stage to put the words into the Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 47.927
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Jowitt, E.||Haden-Guest, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Hare, L. (E. Listowel)||Shepherd, L.|
|Addison, V.||Henderson, L,||Silkin, L.|
|Hall, V.||Hungarton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Williams, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Bingham. L. (E. Lucan) [Teller]||Milner of Leeds, L.||Winster, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller]||Morrison, L.|
|Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor)||Buckinghamshire, E.||Bruce of Melbourne, V.|
|De La Warr, E.||Buckmaster, V.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. President)||Dudley, E.||Davidson, V.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Elibank, V.|
|Cholmondley, M.||Onslow, E. [Teller]||Goschen, V.|
|Willingdon, M.||Selkirk, E. [Teller]||Long, V.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Swinton, V.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Bridgeman, V.||Templewood, V.|
|Trenchard, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage)||Mancroft, L.|
|Gifford, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Rea, L.|
|Brassey of Apethorpe, L.||Jeffreys, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Jessel, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Cherwell, L.||Layton, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Leathers, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow)||Leconfield, L.||Webb-Johnson, L|
|Freyberg, L.||Llewellin, L.||Wolverton, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Moved, That the House be now resumed.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.