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 Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 17th November 1948

All right, the right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I will now ask the Lord President a question in order that we may elucidate this point. At the last General Election admittedly iron and steel figured in the programme, the Socialist catalogue, among many other things. At the next General Election, unhappily perhaps, iron and steel is bound to be a major, if not the major, issue. Supposing that at the General Election our party receives a clear majority from the nation, would the right hon. Gentleman then accept that we have the full right not only in the strict letter of the Constitution but in its spirit also as a free democracy, to repeal the legislation which the Government are tonight asking us to pass, or would he regard that as a provocative act justifying revolutionary action?

We are at the concluding stage of this three-day Debate. So far, no single argument has been produced on the grounds of efficiency to show that under this Bill this essential industry will operate more successfully or at a lower cost or with better industrial relations than exist today. At a critical time, when we still depend for our life on foreign help, when we are daily consuming our accumulated foreign assets, the result of the thrift of our ancestors, or, if hon. Gentlemen prefer, the result of the wicked capitalist instincts of our ancestors—[Interruption.] They are very glad to consume them all the same. How long have we been eating the Argentine railways? At such a time, I say, the Government are deliberately taking a gamble with the future efficiency of this industry whose recent record is one in which all sections of this House take pride. In our judgment it is a gamble which no Government would be justified in taking. There was never a case where the onus of proof for change of ownership lay more clearly with the Government that demands that change. There was never one where less evidence has been adduced of any advantage to the nation in such a change. So, therefore, we ask the House to oppose this wanton and foolish step and to reject the Bill which embodies it.