Orders of the Day — Iron and Steel Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1948.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Marples Mr Ernest Marples , Wallasey 12:00 am, 17th November 1948

I have listened to most of the speeches during the three days of this Debate. So far, there has not been a constructive speech from the opposite side showing what they propose to do with the industry and how they propose to make it efficient. We have had the same platform speeches, the same vague phrases and the same doctrines put forward over the entire three days by all hon. Members opposite, including the Minister of Supply and the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson).

I must make one protest before getting on to my main theme. Although it has given me great pleasure to listen to the flow of oratory which has come from the Front Benches, it would have given me even greater pleasure if some of the speeches had been a shade crisper, neater and shorter, and so given the back benchers on both sides a little less anxiety about making their contributions. Right hon. Gentleman on the Front Benches on both sides might realise that every alliance is the result of a shared hatred, and it may be that the back benchers in future will be combining in order to get more time for themselves.

I shall try to be short in order to give hon. Gentleman opposite a chance of making their contributions. First, may I say that I am not a shareholder in any steel company and I have never been a shareholder in any steel company. But I am a consumer of the product, and I presume that I shall be represented by these consumers' committees about which the Minister of Supply spoke yesterday. I use large quantities of steel sheet piling and rails. My experience of committee work does not give me the same pathetic reliance which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite place on their efficiency. The only way the consumer can really be protected is by taking effective action against the individual who is supplying him. When I have had difficulty with Government Departments about building and constructing I have never yet received any positive help from any committee they have formed. It is entirely the fault of the committee system, for the simple reason that it can be negative but it is rarely positive; it can go into history but it can rarely affect the future. All that happens is that a stereotyped Civil Service letter comes from the committee apologising for its inability to do anything.

It reminds me of a friend of mine who was travelling in the United States in a railway coach over-night and was bitten by one or two insects that were travelling with him. He complained to the railway company and received a letter in reply saying, "This is extraordinary. It has never happened before in the history of the company. We will send a team of trained investigators to the spot to see that it does not happen again"—the usual Civil Service nonsense. My friend was quite satisfied until he held the envelope up to the light and saw in it a slip of paper which said, "Send this guy the bug letter."