(2) The Council shall consist of—
(3) A person shall be disqualified for being appointed or being the chairman of the Council so long as he is a member of the Commons House of Parliament, but a member of the Council other than the chairman and a member of any committee appointed by the Council under this section shall not by reason of his appointment as such a member be disqualified for being elected to, or for sitting or voting as a member of, the Commons House of Parliament.
(4) The Council shall be charged with the duties—
(7) The chairman of the Council shall, on a request made by not less than six members other than members nominated by the Corporation, call a meeting at which the members nominated by the Corporation shall not be entitled to be present, but no report or representation in respect of the matters discussed at any such meeting shall be made to the Minister, unless the decision to' do so has been approved at a meeting of the Council at which the members nominated by the Corporation were entitled to be present.
(8) The Council may, with the approval of the Minister, appoint committees, consisting wholly or partly of persons who are not members of the Council, to consider and report to the Council upon matters affecting the interests of particular classes of the consumers, whether defined by reference to locality, the products concerned or otherwise, and the Council shall, before appointing the members of any such committee, consult with such organisations representing the consumers concerned and their workers as the Minister may determine.
(10) The Council shall, with the approval of the Minister, make rules with respect to the quorum, proceedings, meetings and determinations of the Council and any committee appointed by the Council, and copies of the minutes of the proceedings of the Council, except proceedings at meetings called under subsection (7) of this section, and of the proceedings of every such committee shall be sent to the Corporation.
(12) The Corporation shall pay to the members of the Council or of any such committee such allowances in respect of any loss of remunerative time and such travelling allowances and allowances in respect of their out-of-pocket expenses, and to the officers of the Council such remuneration (whether by way of salary or fees) and such allowances, as the Minister may with the approval of the Treasury determine, and may pay to the chairman of the Council such remuneration (whether by way of salary or fees) as the Minister may with such approval determine, and shall pay such expenses incurred by the Council or any such committee as the Minister may with such approval determine.
(15) The Council shall, as respects each financial year of the Corporation, make to the Minister a report on the exercise and performance by the Council and the committees appointed by them of their functions during that year, and the Minister shall lay a copy of every such report before each House of Parliament.
(16) The Minister may, after consultation with the Council and the Corporation, by regulations make such Modifications of the preceding provisions of this section as may appear to him to be desirable for the purpose of securing more effective machinery for the safeguarding of the interests of the consumers.—[Mr. G. R. Strauss.]
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I think everyone in the House will agree that the consumers' councils or committees are exceedingly important and form an essential part of any nationalisation Measure. I think it worth repeating that, for the first time, as a result of the nationalisation Measures which are being introduced by the Government, a huge range of consumers, who before used to complain in vain that they were given shabby treatment by some producer of raw materials or—
I was just about to quote the speech made by the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) who was complaining just now that shipbuilders had suffered severely in the past from unfair discrimination arising from the manufacture of steel products. I do not know whether that is correct, or not, but he was speaking for the shipping industry.
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs is not here, but it is clearly within the recollection of the House that he was complaining of unfair discrimination by private enterprise and he was saying that he did not want those unfortunate occurrences to continue under public enterprise. I was going on to say that, as a result of the machinery set up under these Measures, such unfair discrimination can in future be brought before Parliament and there is Parliamentary and statutory power to see that such discrimination does not continue. Consumers of steel and many products, if they really appreciated what their interests are, would be extremely grateful to the Government for bringing in Measures which, besides giving them other advantages, will protect them from troubles from which they suffered in the past.
The original consumers' council Clause in the Bill which I put before the House was a very sketchy Clause, and it was deliberately so. I said in my Second Reading speech that I was unwilling to put a detailed Clause before the House affecting the protection of consumers' interests until I had had an opportunity of discovering the views of the principal consumers in the country and getting the general reaction of industry and of the Opposition and finding out from those who are most closely affected what sort of consumers' council they would prefer to have. That Clause was deliberately sketchy and, since the day of introduction, I have been able to hear the views of a large body of people, including the major representatives of the consuming industries; the views of the Opposition have been expressed and the views of trade unions and, of course, of my colleagues on this side of the House. I think we have now been able, as a result of incorporating practically all those opinions—which have not been in conflict, and which in fact have run rather along the lines of the proposals the Government had in mind—to devise a Clause which will produce a useful and effective Consumers' Council able to discuss and remedy any grievance which consumers may feel to be suffering and of which they wish to rid themselves.
I wish to indicate the main features of this new Clause and to compare them in particular with the Clause which was in the original draft. First, we are far more definite here about the constitution and duties of the Consumers' Council. The criticism was made that the original Clause was rather nebulous and that we should have made it more precise. For the reasons I have given, we did not do that, but the proposed new Clause is certainly more precise and, I think, more satisfactory for that reason.
We have also incorporated in this Clause a date by which the Consumers' Council has to be established. I was rather reluctant to do that when we discussed the matter in Committee, not because I was unwilling to see a Consumers' Council established by an early date, but because I thought there might be some difficulty in getting the nominations from a large range of bodies. But I risked that and if the bodies are unable to put forward nominations in time, we shall have to go forward with the nominations we receive. We now say that the date will be within six months of the date of transfer.
I have incorporated a proposal, advocated by the Opposition, that there should be an independent chairman of the Consumers' Council. I abandoned the idea, with which I toyed and put forward upstairs really for the sake of argument, that there should be two consumers' councils operating on parallel lines. Having had views put to me by various bodies, I think it would be far better to have one major Consumers' Council, possibly with a number of sub-committees. This Consumers' Council will deal with a wider range of problems than I originally con- ceived and representatives of consumers who are not merely consumers of secondary products will be eligible for sitting on the council.
Further, the point was put to me that it would be desirable that this Consumers' Council should be able to meet without the representatives of the Corporation when it desired to do so. I maintain the view that if the Council is to do its duty properly it must function as liaison machinery, not with the object of inventing grievances but of smoothing over difficulties that may arise. But I can well conceive, and I accepted the argument that it might be desirable, that consumers might wish to meet among themselves in order to decide the degree of priority of the points which they wish to be considered, taken up and may be rectified. So I have made provision that where necessary, when six members of the Consumers' Council so request, the Council shall meet without any representatives from the Corporation, but that such a meeting without the representatives of the Corporation present will be unable to prepare a report for submission to the Minister. Any report submitted to the Minister must come from the full body. I think that is right and proper.
These are the main changes. I have reason to hope, and I am confident, that they have largely met the views and criticisms put forward by the consuming industries. I think that we have largely met the views put forward by the Opposition. I do not think that there is very much between the various parties in the House or between the Government and the industrial interests in this matter. We want good effective machinery so that any trouble which may arise, any difficulties which cannot perhaps be settled beforehand, will now, through this machinery, be easily, quickly and smoothly settled. I think we have achieved that by the machinery proposed in this Clause.
I have maintained throughout the discussions on the various points in this Bill that it is most important that we should not introduce too much rigidity into the structure which we are building here, but I repeated that argument so often in Committee that it became almost a joke. I am certain that I was right, and I repeat it here, as I shall on various other occasions during the Report stage as often as is necessary, that we need to be perfectly certain that what we are providing here is machinery which is flexible, which can be altered according to circumstances wherever it may appear to be necessary to bring about improvements, without having recourse to a Parliamentary Bill. Therefore, provision is here made for alteration of the constitution of this body or its powers by regulation should that at any time prove necessary. In view of these facts, I commend this new Clause to the House, and hope that it will receive approval in all quarters.
I must say a few words upon this Clause. The fact that I am addressing the House at all is really the Minister's fault because he fell short of his usual candour in telling us—it is quite a legitimate piece of dialectic—that the Government introduced a very sketchy Clause when they were not quite aware of all the implications, and that they did it on purpose, and that this Clause is the result of second thoughts. I would equally like to put forward the point of view that the Government incorporated in the original Bill a ridiculous Clause which was manifestly unworkable and which was shot to pieces by the arguments of the Opposition in Standing Committee, and that they have now incorporated in this new Clause, most of our suggestions. I ask the House to believe that this is as plausible an explanation of the Clause at present before us as the explanation which the Minister gave.
I think that it is the first time in my now rather extensive Parliamentary experience that a Minister has said that he purposely introduced imprecise words in a Bill.
It is not the first time that the right hon. Gentleman has heard me say that. In the Second Reading Debate on this Bill I deliberately said that we had introduced a Clause here which was vague with the object of being able to put it into proper shape following the introduction of I he Bill, after consultation with the appropriate authorities.
If the Minister has said it more than once that makes it all the worse; I only hope that he will not do it again. Really, the House of Commons cannot be treated in this way as a kind of means of putting up a Ministerial ballon d'essai to see whether it will float or not. The Minister said, "I always believe in flexibility; this is what I have always said; I think I said it at every meeting of the Standing Committee." What this means is that whenever the Opposition endeavoured to introduce terms of precision the Minister says that he is in favour of flexibility. Wherever the Minister is precise he stands upon the actual words, and on those occasions he is found to be extremely rigid.
The attitude of my hon. Friends on this side of the House to this Clause is that it is about the best that can be done in the circumstances, and we should not dream of dividing the House against it. When the Minister, however, tries to say that we agree that this is an effective way of protecting the consumer, I must say, and put it on record, that he is going much too far. Given the fact that the Government are to be in a key export and competitive industry like iron and steel, the verbose stuff contained in this Clause is the best we can do to protect the consumer. I give the Minister that, but if he thinks that the protection will be effective I must tell him that we profoundly disagree with him. Of course it will not.
Once the Government are in business the consumer can whistle for protection to all the consumers' councils in the world. I see that the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter), whose interventions are always so agreeable to us on this side of the House, nodding his head. There is no means by which the consumer of postal services can get the price lowered to an economic one if the Government do not want it to be so reduced. If the Government desire to use the Post Office as a means of raising revenue the consumer cannot prevent it. If the right hon. Gentleman gets into a mess with his nationalised Corporation, as he surely will, and starts to put up the prices far above world prices, in order to prevent Parliamentary probing, all these ideas of consultative bodies of
not less than fifteen nor more than thirty…
will be quite incapable of protecting the consumer against the Government nationalised industry. There is no means by which the private citizen can ever protect himself against a Government except by going to the ballot box.
The hon. Member will not say "Hear, hear" in another year's time.
I would say in passing that we now rather regret having introduced the subject of an independent chairman because it is a piece of machinery which can be and is being greatly abused in other places. However that may be, I am only speaking to say that we shall not divide the House against this Clause, and secondly, to place it on record that we think that this elaborate machinery will, in the circumstances, prove to be entirely ineffective, but it is the best that we can do.
In moving the Second Reading of this new Clause the Minister said that he has had a further think about this very important matter. From the length of the Clause which he has introduced it looks as though he has had a pretty big think. I wish to ask him whether he has thought this matter out to its absolutely logical conclusion. I believe that he has not yet achieved finality in this matter. He said that he has allowed the provisions to be somewhat flexible; I am not sure whether he has allowed himself sufficient scope for the flexibility that is necessary.
This is the particular point involved. Primarily, it is a council of consumers, and yet on his own admission he has had to introduce two members of the Corporation on to a Consumers' Council. Having done that he has admitted the principle I wish to establish and persuade the Government to accept. It is that this idea of a council, as distinct from just a committee—the rather nebulous suggestion, as at first proposed in the Bill, that the consumers might have a committee in which to put their case—this idea of a council can only be met if we have a fully representative council of all the main and chief interests concerned with the success of the industry. That can only be achieved if the council is fully representative not only of the consumer interests, but of producer interests as well.
It has been the Labour Party's policy all along, and we have published this point time after time, that we are intend- ing to work towards the full conception of industrial democracy. If that is the case, how can we conceive industrial democracy without a representative council for the organisation which is being democratised? It is quite impossible to consider that Parliament itself is the only body in which the fuller and more representative ideas can be put forward, because Parliamentary time, as we all know only too well, is taken up far too much by all sorts of other important matters to give adequate and continuous attention to the day-to-day, and weekly, and monthly, problems of the nationalised industries. I wish to ask the Government, therefore, whether we are really intending to work towards a real sense of industrial democracy or whether we are perhaps accepting a system which will be one of rather autocratic and remote control?
It is all too easy, as we know in the examples of monopolies that we have seen under private enterprise, for a monopoly to get remote from the real requirements of the producers. It can also ignore the day-to-day interests of the workers. Since there is no other place where either the workers or consumers can go it becomes the inevitable tendency of a monopoly to move away from the real interests of both the producers and consumers—those chiefly concerned with the success of the industry. I suggest that if we really want to implement our Labour Party policy, which is that we are endeavouring to work towards industrial democracy, one of the first things we must do is to set up a consumer-producer council instead of the conception of the Minister, which is for a one-sided Consumers' Council only.
The Minister may say he has allowed democratic control to take place. He may say he has already consulted various sections of the industry before bringing in his Bill. That may or may not be so; in any case we do not know what were the consultations, nor how long they will continue if this Bill becomes law. He may say he has consulted with the trade unions, the F.B.I. and Steel House, and has considered consumer interests in introducing this Clause. He may say that, in any case, the public interest will be watched by this House, but I have already endeavoured to suggest that that will not be possible.
I want to suggest that the workers themselves, as well as the consumers, want to feel that they have some top-level approach to the way in which the industry is run, and to the way in which the policy for the industry is worked out. I do not believe that that is possible unless we agree with the conception which I have tried to introduce to the Minister in the terms of the Amendments which I introduced in Committee. I believe that the only direction in which we can look for success in these nationalised undertakings is if we can build up a real sense of team spirit. So far in the nationalised industries there is still a feeling in the minds of the workers that at the top are those in control over whom they have no democratic influence, and with whom they have only very remote contact, who are still doing things with which the workers do not agree. There is a remote "they" instead of "we" who are running the industry. I suggest that the Minister think again about the actual terms in which this Clause is drafted.
If he considers that my point of view is personal, I would direct his attention to the comments of the Lord President of the Council which appeared in "The Times" of 22nd November of last year. For example, he is reported as saying that the goal of the Labour movement was the attainment of economic democracy. He went on to say:
The basic political problem of attaining economic democracy was to devise measures and machinery to take over in the public interest vital economic functions which had hitherto been organised by private persons in private interests.
Finally, he makes the point that the Government were not wedded to any particular management pattern for the socialised industries but he had primarily in mind, in working towards industrial democracy, the way in which the nationalised industries are, in fact, to be organised.
A further point, indicating that this is in fact the Labour Party's policy, was made in "Tribune" of 4th March of this year. I am sorry that the Minister is not in his place to listen to this, because he cannot be altogether oblivious to the suggestions made in this particular paper in view of his earlier association with it. The point here is this. It is quoted under the heading of "Industrial democracy,"
and what is conceived by that term, and it refers to the writings of Harold Clay. The wording is:
Nationalisation means even greater centralisation in some directions but"—
and this is the important point—
I believe that in nationalisation lies the greatest opportunity for the full practice of industrial democracy, with machinery which will allow for the fullest participation of the individual…
When I have spoken to those who work in some of the nationalised industries, I have found, in talking to the individual workers, that they do not feel that sense of individual responsibility in the running of the organisation. If some of my own colleagues doubt this point I would refer them to comments in the newspapers by Joe Hall, the Yorkshire miners' leader, who has been very critical of the bureaucratic set-up which has developed in the coal industry so far—
I appreciate the point you have made, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was referring specifically to the proposal of the Minister. He makes provision for a Consumers' Council, but in fact he introduces into that council representatives of the producers in the form of two members of the Corporation. I maintain that because he has done that, he has had to agree in principle with the point I am making. He has not expressed the point clearly in his new Clause, but he has in fact done it, and in those circumstances I think he would have been more thorough if he had in fact, stated that it was his intention to make it a representative producer-consumer council. It is along those lines that I am arguing, as I see it, directly in line with the Minister's Clause.
The Minister is saying that it is a representative council. How can we have a representative council if the representatives are appointed by the Minister? It may well be that the Minister may want to "vet" some of the nominations before appointment, but I am not at all certain that that is a good thing. In order to make this a really representative council—which is presumably the intention of the Minister—he must allow the consumer interests to elect their own representatives. Otherwise, it is equivalent to hon. Members of this House being appointed by the Prime Minister, which I do not think the people in this country would stand for one moment. Under those circumstances I think that the consumers should insist that their representatives on this council are elected.
There has been quite an amount of thought in various quarters—as to whether or not this council should sit in public or deliberate behind closed doors. I believe that to be an extremely important point. As a matter of fact, a Bill was introduced in Private Members' time, the Public Bodies (Admission of the Press) Bill to ensure certain public bodies giving access to the Press. Unfortunately, it did not receive a Second Reading; there was not time; but it is interesting to notice that this Bill was introduced not by hon. Members on one side of the House but by representatives from both sides of the House. That indicates, I consider, that this idea of these public bodies having the sanction of publicity applying to them, giving them teeth to their deliberations, so that they can, if they wish, meet in public, so that the public does know what is going on, is a matter of supreme importance.
I ask the Minister whether, if he can do it in no other way, he will consider, between now and a later stage of the Bill, introducing a further paragraph which would enable this Consumers' Council to sit in public. I feel that, without that, the suggestion put forward by the Opposition that it can well become a sham organisation, just a facade of real democracy, will be realised; whereas I want, if I can, to make it—and I hope that the Minister will give some thought to what I have said—a really democratic council for the industry which will result in the industry becoming largely self-governing. We cannot have self-government unless we have elected representatives and we cannot have real democracy in the industry unless we have a council sitting in public in which those representatives express themselves publicly and which can state its ideas clearly so that they will have some real influence on the executive board of the Corporation. That is the real essence of democracy as it has worked out over the years in this country. I suggest that it is the pattern which we might reasonably follow in the setting up of an organisation for the democratic control of this nationalised undertaking.
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) quoted a number of the sacred texts of Socialism, including the long text from "Tribune" to which he very rightly said that the Government should pay attention, because I see that most of their election propaganda is now contained in that paper and, no doubt, the fake photographs will follow. I thought that the hon. Gentleman rather ignored what the Consumers' Council is for. The Consumers' Council is for the protection of consumers of steel. It is worth while remembering that the interests of producers and consumers are by no means necessarily the same. Clearly it would always be to the interest of those engaged in the steel industry, whether managers or workers, to get the best they possibly can out of the industry for themselves; but that would not necessarily by any means be in the interests of the country as a whole.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can elaborate that point a little further. I believe that there is a real community of interest between producers and consumers. They both want the industry to be efficient. If they do not get a real standard of efficiency in the industry, how can the workers expect an increase in pay and how can the consumers expect to get supplies of the quality and quantity they require?
Of course, there is a long-run community of interest with everybody. On the other hand, if one industry can put itself a nose ahead, obviously it will be in a position to do better than it ought out of the general community. Presumably, that is one of the reasons why consumers' councils are set up. The hon. Gentleman was very anxious to get everybody on these councils—to have them voted on to the councils. That seems to me like having a General Election. I fully agree that if we get a General Election we will dispose of the whole of this Bill and we will have no council at all. That will solve that problem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said that in this House and in the Committees of this House we have a duty to get Bills as well worded as they can be. Therefore, he commended this new Clause as an improvement on the previous one. Clearly that is right. We have a duty in this House, all of us on both sides, to try to get Bills put into words which mean something. It certainly was something new to me to hear the Minister say that he deliberately drafted his Bill badly in order to get it amended. That is not the way in which Bills should be presented to this House.
I ask hon. Members to reflect about these Consumers' Councils. There is a feeling of absolute unreality about them. I thought that the Minister was extraordinarily complacent as he greased his way through his speech. He used phrases like, "This is exceedingly important to consumers," "This is an essential part of the Bill as far as they are concerned," "They will not complain in the future in vain," and "this provision will be useful and effective," and so on. It put me very much in mind of the right hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food who said that the gestation period of a cow was 11 months and that the Ministry's experts said so. It is that sort of bland and wholly meaningless statement which is made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, who make them without really thinking what they are saying.
Let us reflect. What happens under nationalisation? I have quoted an instance already this evening. We are pricing ourselves out of the world coal market. Bunker coal in New York is 61s. 3d. a ton and in London it is 98s. a ton. What have the shipowners and other people done about this? I have no doubt what they have done. They have complained to the Consumers' Council set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act. What has happened? Was is useful and effective? Did they complain in vain? Did they find it an exceedingly important and essential part of the Bill? Of course not. What happened was precisely and exactly nothing of any sort whatever.
What will happen when prices go up if this Bill unfortunately is ever put into effect? What would happen if we started pricing ourselves out of the international market in steel, as we are now doing in coal? A complaint to the council would be made. But is the right lion. Gentleman really so foolish as to believe that anything whatever would happen about it? I cannot believe that the Minister is as foolish as his words. He knows quite well that nothing whatever would happen about it. He also knows quite well that the effect of this Bill will be to increase the price of the products of the steel industry and to lower the standards of efficiency. Therefore, I rejoice that even if this Bill is passed through this Parliament it will still be an issue at the next Election and it will be stopped.
I have a good deal of sympathy with the desire of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) to get the full co-operation of the workers in the industry. If he or anybody else thinks that the workers in the industry would consider that the suggestion made by him would be any step towards industrial democracy, then I assure them they are much mistaken. The workers in any of the nationalised industries would not be content for one moment with representation upon a Consumers' Council. The directions in which these very necessary changes must be made are on a different level altogether. I am pleased to find that definite steps are being taken in the nationalised industries to secure the co-operation of the workers, through the trade unions and the workshops—the latter is the place which really matters—and to secure the good will of the people concerned in the industry.
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I apologise. The point I tried to make was that there is the need for the producers to be able to state their case collectively on a council—not on a Consumers' Council but on a council of a more comprehensive conception consisting of both producers and consumers.
That would be entirely the wrong body on which to have the workers in the industry represented. The need for co-operation between management and staff is supreme. At the start of some of the nationalised industries, there was a great feeling of frustration and disappointment among the workers that they were not being consulted more than they had been.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this question is really concerned with Consumers' Councils. It may be desirable to have workers in industries on Consumers' Councils, but I cannot see that a worker in an industry would be on the Consumers' Council for his own industrial product.
In view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would you be good enough to give consideration to line 51 where there are the words:
…representing the consumers concerned and their workers as the Minister may determine.
If the workers are to be taken into consultation, might it not be best that the workers should also be on the main body?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is talking about the workers in the steel industry. So far as I understand line 51—and I have not read it very carefully—it refers to workers in say the shipbuilding industry, which is a consumer of steel.
Might I then conclude on one point concerning the speech of the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch), who suggested that the Minister had said that he had purposely introduced a bad Clause in the Standing Committee. I think the word he used was not "bad" but "vague." I should have thought that the Opposition would have been rather pleased at being allowed to take part in the deliberations and in being encouraged to help in arriving at a good Clause. That is democracy, as I understand it—to try to get the co-operation of both sides of the House in obtaining what we hope, and what every patriotic individual would hope, is for the good of the country, that is, a Bill which will improve the position of the steel industry.
I am sorry in a way, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you had to call hon. Members on the other side of the House to Order, because obviously the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) was becoming a deviationist, and the development of the internecine feud which might have ensued would have been very interesting and entertaining to the public. The Minister justified the new Clause by saying that it was infinitely better than the first and rather spurious one which he put up, rather like an Aunt Sally, for us to destroy. It is certainly true that the first Clause was so sketchy that it was treated with ridicule and was withdrawn. It was a lamentable skeleton which is now replaced by some 90 lines of rather flabby flesh.
When the Minister tries to get the support of the House for this new Clause by saying that it is going to be a very good thing for the consumers and that it will make all the difference to consumers, we know full well on a perusal of this new Clause that that promise is meaningless. This Clause robs the House of almost any control and makes the sanction which this Consumers' Council could possess null and void. It is true that certain improvements have been made on the recommendations which we made from this side in Committee, but the chief improvement is that the non-Governmental members can meet together without the members of the Corporation. So far as Parliamentary control goes, these meetings will not be recorded in the minutes and will not be reported to Parliament. The only interesting meetings will be those that will be held by the Consumers' Council as consumers when they are going to say what is wrong, and when they do not wish the members of the Corporation to be present, and it is precisely the records of such meetings which will not be laid before the House and over which the House will have no control.
The root problem is that, despite this façade of help for consumers, these Consumers' Councils will never work, have never worked and cannot work. All that is happening is that the Government, instead of being independent and above what is right and wrong as between consumer and producer, now becomes, as a producer, judge in its own case. We believe that, although we are prepared to accept this Clause as a certain improvement, the Minister's claim that it will make this Bill more palatable to the British public is arrant nonsense.
I think the original model which the Minister presented to us might be referred to as the futility model, and the present one, although a considerable improvement, hardly attains the great height of the utility model. I should like to refer to the Consumers' Council, because I do not think that this Clause will succeed in attaining its objective. With the best will in the world, I cannot believe that this machinery is going to have this effect. Consumers must obviously include those outside this country, because the export of steel must be one of the most important factors in the steel industry. I cannot conceive, with this Clause as it stands, how the interests of those who are engaged in the export of steel can be properly protected.
I happen to have been overseas recently in certain markets, such as Hong Kong, and I found that there was keen competition from Belgian and French steel, which sells under the price of British steel because of exchange manipulation, and from American steel. I cannot see how, when the industry is nationalised and this Consumers' Council, which will be a very slow motion body, is being set up, the industry will be helped at all. Of course, the simplest thing to meet the objectives of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) would be to include everybody, and that would be absolutely democratic. Every- body would be included and we would have a general debating society on the matter. As the Consumers' Council is to be set up in this Clause, I do not believe it will really be of assistance to any material extent, because it will not lead to immediate consultation and action. It will become a vague sort of debating society for discussing things after they have occurred, and will not enable people to take necessary action beforehand. I think this Clause is an improvement, though it is not the perfect model. It would be very dangerous if we were to live in a fools' paradise and have the idea that this Consumers' Council is going to look after the interests of all consumers, whether in this country or overseas.
I should like to make one constructive suggestion, and perhaps in his reply the Minister may give an indication of his mind on this subject. In Northern Ireland we have no steel industry, but we are very large consumers of steel. In fact, I think we have the largest single shipyard in the whole world, and we also have very large textile machinery foundries like those of Combe, Barbour and Combe's and Mackie's, which export their machinery all over the world. Our workers there earn £9 per head in dollars against £3 per head in the rest of the United Kingdom, and this steel is the raw material in many industries that are of extreme importance to us. Already in the shipbuilding industry, I hear suggestions of competition coming from all over the world, and even again from Japan. If these fears prove to be true it will certainly have a very great effect upon employment in the shipbuilding industry.
I am quite sure that if the quantity, the quality, and the price of steel are all right, there will be no trouble or criticism from anybody in Northern Ireland. However, I suggest to the Minister—although the Clause does say that before appointing the members of a committee the Consumers' Council shall do so by reference to the locality and the production concerned—that in his reply he might mention that he will be willing to consult and keep in touch with the Minister of Commerce for Northern Ireland on this very important matter.
The Minister's speech has thrown a flood of light upon this Bill for me. Many Clauses which hitherto seemed to be vague, illogical, unreasonable, or just plain nonsense have now become beautifully clear. It is obvious that the Minister was only putting up an Aunt Sally for us to knock down, and I think that his description must clearly apply not only to the Clause for which a new one is now being substituted, but to many others. I suggest to him that that is rather a bad and expensive method of draftsmanship; it would be far better in future merely to print the numbers of the Clauses and to leave blanks, when we could all move our Amendments as we please and the best one could be selected to go into the vacant space.
I wish to address one direct question to the Minister. Earlier this afternoon he relied upon the Consumers' Council for the fact that he could be questioned in Parliament about particular matters brought before that council. How does he envisage that that will arise? As I read the new Clause—and I read it with some attention—it seems to me that it is going to be very difficult to raise any matters in Parliament, at any rate at a time when it can be effective so to do. If the Minister will look at subsection (6), he will see that it says:
The Minister may give directions to the Corporation on any matter arising out of any conclusion….
And so on. Presumably, therefore, we should be entitled to question him upon those directions, but we shall not know what those directions are because, presumably, they will not be published until they are presented to Parliament in the annual report which is to come before us. That report would, no doubt, be debatable, but by the time it comes before us there may not be much object in debating it. Clearly, the annual report of the Iron and Steel Corporation would have a greater claim upon the time of the House, and, in the present congestion of Parliamentary business, it is unlikely that we should be able to secure many Debates on the iron and steel industry. By the time that report appears, the matters in it will, in any case, cease to have very much relevance. Therefore, I should like him to explain what he meant by saying earlier in the Debate that this would give the House an opportunity of questioning him upon matters of such vital interest to consumers.
With regard to the advantages of this Clause, the Minister has obviously claimed far too much. It is not going to benefit consumers to any great extent; indeed, the Measures of nationalisation so far introduced have been much more to the advantage of producers than of consumers. As we have heard from the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) and another hon. Member opposite, at any rate until you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pulled him up, even producers have not been satisfactorily guaranteed by those Measures. Quite frankly, I expect very little to come from this Clause. The experience of Consumers' Councils in other nationalised industries would not encourage me to believe that very much use will be made of this council, or that, if use is made of it, it will have very much effect. The real protection—indeed, the only protection—for consumers comes from the ability to go to some other supplier, and that ability will be removed from them by this Measure. I cannot oppose this Clause because the intention behind it is good, but I do not expect any practical results to flow from it.
Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken so far has given the purpose of this Clause his blessing, but has pointed out, as I wish to do, that we must not expect much from what Consumers' Councils can do. It is one of the vices of nationalisation that when an industry is taken over in this way, some sort of body has to be set up to try to protect consumers. But how effective have they been up to date? A short time ago I asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how often the Consumers' Council of the nationalised coal industry had met since it was set up. In his reply he told me that it had had nine meetings and that representations had been made to it by three groups of consumers. The fact that in nearly two years only three representations should have been made to the Consumers' Council about the types of coal and the shortage of coal just shows how little confidence the public has in such councils. I only hope that this one will work better. I think that a little more attempt has been made to make it a workable proposition, but inherently it must be unworkable for this reason.
I wish to return to the theme which I mentioned earlier about the public interest. The consumer's interest is not the public interest; the consumer's interest is to get the goods he wants to consume as cheaply as possible, come what may to the council. If the council is to do its job properly, it is going to have views diametrically opposed to those of the Corporation who are charged under an earlier Clause with watching the public interest. That is why I urge the Minister to give us some definition and to set up some sort of court of appeal to decide what, in fact, is the public interest. I hold out very little hope that this Consumers' Council will be able to achieve anything more than the very mediocre results achieved by similar bodies already set up in other industries.
I wish to refer to a particular matter in connection with this Clause which I feel should be given some attention. Unless we are very careful, we shall find that this consumers' council will be acting in the interests of the consumers of the raw material instead of in the public interest. When we consider that the firms who come within the Third Schedule have many subsidiaries, not only wholly-owned but partly-owned, we can understand the ramifications which the council would have to consider in its deliberations. If this council fails to take into consideration the public interest, it will mean that the iron and steel industry, the primary producers of the raw material, will become the milch cow for the ordinary concerns outside the nationally-owned companies.
Can the Minister give a definite undertaking that organisations representing the workers will be included on the council? As the Clause now stands, it says:
The council shall…consult with such organisations representing the consumers concerned and their workers as the Minister may determine.
It leads one to believe, therefore, that organisations of workers will be considered when representation is given, but if we look further down, to lines 21 and 22, we see that one of the interests of consumers which will be discussed is that of prices. If prices are to be discussed, then it must be borne in mind that one of the most important factors in a price is the wage element. If I may refer again to the fact that the council should be one dealing with the national interest, then it seems to me that someone should be present on the council whose duty it is to see that the council is informed upon that aspect of costs and prices. I ask the Minister to consider that.
I understood that the Minister said, in making the case that two members would be nominated by the Corporation, that the reports which were made would not be accepted unless the two nominated members of the council were present or, as is laid down:
unless the decision to do so has been approved at a meeting of the Council at which the members nominated by the Corporation were entitled to be present.
If the council is to be 15 to 30 members, and bearing in mind the fact that the council consists of consumers who are using the raw materials, it is obvious that at any meeting at which the nominated members were present they could be outvoted. In practice it means that the council can meet at any time without those two members being present and can make their report thereafter direct to the Minister. To my mind that proviso has little validity. Although I cannot go the whole way with my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper), I agree with the purport of his remarks that the workers should be entitled to a representative upon the council. I ask the Minister to give consideration to the points which I have outlined.
To me the most interesting part of this new Clause is its essential naivety and the coals of fire which it heaps upon Socialist theorists opposite who started this idea, some years ago, that, because of internecine competition and growing monopoly these industries must be brought together, concentrated and nationalised in the public interest, that Ministers must preside over them and that Parliament would democratise them. After three and a half years we are seeing what we on this side of the House have always known—that the democratisation of these industries was quite impossible, that Parliament was too small a body, too inexpert, too busily occupied in other ways; and gradually, through these nationalisation Measures, there has arisen this contrary idea of a consumers' council somehow to keep in order the new hierarchy of power set up by the Government, to see that consumers' grievances are redressed, to see that prices are fair and so on.
In this Clause we see the modern perfection of this device, and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) hails it as a splendid contrivance which, in more expert hands, can be improved but which on the whole is something which represents the highest state of advance which we have reached in economic democracy. We on this side of the House continue to think that conception is entirely wrong from beginning to end. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) rightly said, the chief defect is the lack of power on the part of these consumers' councils. How can they possibly exert sufficient pressure in the tug-of-war with the nationalised Corporation and its associated companies in order to see that there is fair play all round, that prices are fair, that quality is adequate and so on? They have no standard whatever by which to go; they have nothing but complaints inside their meetings. With this Iron and Steel Corporation under its umbrella, the Government have all the facts of the situation at their disposal. They have the works, they have the labour costs, the prices, the difficulty of acquiring raw materials, they have the difficulty of selling the finished products—all the multiplicity of details—within the Corporation. The consumers' council, on the other hand, has no access to the facts; it can do nothing but reflect resentment on the part of consumers that they are not getting the goods at proper value and proper prices. To me, the really terrifying thing about this whole conception is that it would be perfectly possible from the internal point of view—although I think the export situation is slightly different—for the products of the Iron and Steel Corporation and its associated companies progressively to rise in price and progressively to decline in quality without the country being aware of the trend at all, without the consumers being able to represent their grievances effectively on the consumers' councils.
What happens in competitive industry where the tug-of-war is equally divided on all sides? These individual companies are competing with each other; they can force down prices and they can please the consumer on quality. They are fighting the battle, and that is the only way in which we shall ever ensure that the consumer is satisfied—by competition, regulated as we now know it must be; regulated without going back to the old day of internecine competition, but by competition between individual competing entities. This attempt to prevent the Corporation, with its associated companies, from roaring away in the future with lower quality products and higher prices is hopelessly inadequate. We on this side of the House feel that most definitely. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no hope of this country satisfying its consumers at home—although the export situation might be different, where we have competition between one great country and another; there is no hope of the consumer at home being satisfied under the operation of this Bill even with the Clause which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced today.
I do not propose to follow the noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in his suggestion that the only way to guarantee fair prices to the consumer is to go back to the days of competition. Although he says it is now to be a regulated competition, he does not say who is to do the regulation. I want to speak for a few moments upon the principle to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) has already called attention—the principle of the Minister appointing these consumers' representatives. The more I see of this business of running a large industry or of running a country the more I am convinced that we are putting far too big a responsibility upon human beings—far bigger than they can carry. I have the greatest regard for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and I think if he were chairman of one of the iron and steel companies he would make an admirable job of it and he would be able to understand what was going on in that one concern. However, when we ask him to know the personalities of all the firms, and not of one only, and, in addition, to take on the responsibility for a big Government Department, and in addition to that, to be responsible for other large industries, we seriously ought to consider whether one human being is physically able to comprehend all that is going on in the field of responsibility nominally under his control. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that it is not possible for one human being to shoulder this responsibility.
What exactly is the Minister proposing to do in this particular case? He is proposing to appoint certain people to run an industry, and he is proposing to appoint certain other people to watch over those running the industry. If we are to have a check through consumers' representatives, it would seem to be a sensible proposition that the people whose job it is to watch the others should be appointed by quite other people. I am quite prepared to admit that, when we come to set up an alternative system of electing representatives to the Consumers' Council, we meet many technical difficulties. I do not profess tonight to put forward an ideal scheme. All I know is that sometime, somehow we have to devise such a system of election to this Consumers' Council. We shall have to work it out as we go along. [Laughter.] Certainly, we shall.
Certainly, as we advance from the old system which has been discredited. I do not propose to go back to the old system. I propose to go forward. However, I am prepared to admit that we cannot be dogmatic about the future path we propose to tread. If we are to have these representatives of the consumers, whether appointed by the Minister, or elected, as I think they should be, by some democratic system, from among the consumers themselves, then they must have power. They must be able to feel that they are of some significance, and that their decisions are listened to. I believe that they should have some direct connection with the Corporation at top level, and, indeed, I would suggest that there should be direct representation on the Corporation of the Consumers' Council. My right hon. Friend suggests that on the Consumers' Council there should be two members of the Corporation. I would put it to him that the much better way would be to have two members of the Consumers' Council, appointed by the Consumers' Council, sitting on the Corporation itself.
The advantage of that would be, that they would feel that they could put their case effectively, that they could have access to all the information. There would be no feeling of frustration, or there would be less feeling of frustration and even if some of the feeling of frustration that exists or has existed in other spheres has been imagined, the fact that the consumers would be able, through their representatives on the Corporation, to put forward their point of view to the policy makers at the top would be extremely valuable. I should be out of Order, apparently, were I to go on to the question of workers' representatives, so I will leave it at this: firstly, we should have a much more democratic system of selection from among the consumers on a body of this kind, and, secondly, that the body itself should have some representation on the policy-making directorate.
It is interesting to hear from the other side of the House, from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), the classic argument against nationalisation, that one man cannot deal with these corporations. I think that, at last, the realisation of the failure of the theory of nationalisation is seeping through to the other side of the House. I wish with regard to this new Clause first to congratulate the Minister on subsection (1), in which he puts in a time limit of six months upon the setting up of the Consumers' Council. We have been pressing, on consideration of these nationalisation Measures, ever since the days of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill, for the imposition of some limit of this sort concerning the setting up of such councils, because there have been lamentable delays, and I am glad that the Minister has, as he said, taken a stand, and I congratulate him upon it.
I would add one word of warning about subsection (10), about the regulations and rules of the Council, which have to be made with the approval of the Minister. I would point out that the Ministry of Fuel and Power has set up certain tribunals, and the tribunals themselves have taken a very long time to operate because they have not made their own rules and regu- lations. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that he will watch the making of these rules and regulations to see that it conforms with the speed necessary.
The second point I want to make is that this Council as such will be effective only as far as the big consumers are concerned. In the coal industry only three applications have been made to the appropriate council. One can understand that. No big consumer is going to bring an action, so to speak, against his own supplier. It is only at the end of the industrial dispute that the consumer says, "All right, I shall take you to the council." Therefore, it is only the big consumer who is likely to use the council in this way. I want the Minister to consider the small consumers. For instance, in connection with coal, and in my own constituency, I have heard complaints from housewives about the quality of the coal they are getting. It is not likely that housewives will take such complaints up to London to the Consumers' Council. Subsection (8) says that the Council "may" with the approval of the Minister appoint committees, perhaps by reference to locality. It is to the word "may" that I object. Will the Minister consider altering it to "shall"? If this Council is to work it must have local committees. In the new gas industry setup we have certain local committees, even though they are very big.
Speaking as a representative of Sheffield I demand that we have a local committee of the Consumers' Council set up in Sheffield. I hope that other hon. Members for Sheffield, even those on the other side of the House, will support this demand. Sheffield is responsible for about half of the whole steel product of the United Kingdom, in point of value. Unless there is a local committee there, to which Sheffield people can go, this Council will not work. Small consumers will not go up to London to the main Council. Therefore, I make this definite demand on the Minister that he will consider making it compulsory for the Council to appoint these local committees. I demand also that Sheffield shall be one of the places that has a local committee. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me an answer, so that I may know if he will consider making an Amendment to this effect, or whether he will leave it to the wish of the Council itself. These big central councils do not tend to delegate their functions. They may be given powers to delegate, but they do not tend to delegate, and I should like to see a duty placed upon the Council to set up committees, and particularly, to set up a committee in Sheffield.
I intervene in this discussion for a moment only, because I think it would be quite wrong that there should be no comment from this side of the House on the very remarkable speech made a little while ago by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). I thought that his argument was an interesting one. He gave, I think, general support to the Clause because it did concede in some way, according to the Minister's argument, at any rate, the principle of Ministerial responsibility in the House of Commons for this great national interest. The hon. Member, however, devoted the greater part of his speech to a very severe criticism of the Clause for its ineffectiveness in doing that. He thought that this was a very important matter, that great national interests were involved, and that it was quite wrong that the public should have no means of questioning the operations. He thought that the Clause was a bad one because it gave so little opportunity to do that.
I wonder what opportunity the public have to do that now. Suppose that we do not pass this Bill steel is just as important a public necessity as if we do pass the Bill. According to those who oppose the Bill, it will be an even more important interest in that case, and, therefore, it is very relevant to the hon. Member's argument to answer the question of what control there is, if we do not have the Bill at all. The answer, of course, is that there is none at all. The hon. Gentleman is not content with that. He is not content with this Clause because it does not make the interest answerable enough in the House of Commons. I do not want to delay the House on this matter, but I think that was a very remarkable argument to come from a man who parted from his colleagues because he did not want a Bill which would render this national interest and this national property subject to the responsibility of the House of Commons. He has parted with his colleagues and opposed them as bitterly as he has done in the House and up and down the country for doing the one thing which he now complains is being too ineffectively done by the Clause which the Minister has introduced.
I want to raise one or two questions rather small in themselves, though I think important in their consequences, but I wish to begin by raising one rather more general question which has not, I think, been discussed, Sir, in your hearing. It was referred to by almost all the speakers in the first part of the Debate, and that is the defence by the Minister of this new Clause on the remarkable ground that is better than the Clause in the Bill, and that the Clause in the Bill was deliberately sketchy, not thought out, but something which the Minister had toyed with, that was put in for the House to pull about. I am sure that I am not unfairly paraphrasing the Minister's defence of this new Clause. I think that it is a very great pity that the Leader of the House is not here. I had thought that everything that could possibly be done had been done to make nonsense of the argument (a) that these great nationalisation Bills, especially the steel one, are not matters of constitutional importance—and it is necessary for the honour of the Leader of the House to believe that—and (b) the argument that if the Guillotine is brought in that is the fault of the Opposition, and that ample time is allowed for the full public discussion of these great Measures and if there is not full public discussion that is the fault of the Opposition.
Those two propositions have to be believed by the Leader of the House and by everybody on the other side who regards a party as an entity capable of having any honour. But here we have something new done contrary to those propositions. How can either of those propositions be believed? We have this nonsense put up that, of course, it was a sketchy Clause just put in to be shot at, and that the Minister, when he brought this Bill before the House for Second Reading, knew quite well that the only Clause concerned with consumers' protection was ineffective, ill-drafted and sketchy. That is what he has told us. How does he wonder that time was found necessary by the Opposition to discuss this? I challenge the Minister that I am not in any way unfairly parodying what he has said. I think that some other Minister ought to tell us whether that is Government policy; perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us before we leave this matter whether it is the Government's policy that Ministers should introduce an immensely complicated Bill which should contain Clauses not designed as exactly as possible to provide law but merely sketched as a pastime for debate.
There are one or two smaller things about which I want to ask. One concerns subsection (2, b) about the bodies to be consulted, which include organisations representing workers. I am not for a moment arguing that there ought not to be persons commended to the Minister by the trade unions, which, I suppose is what this chaste, periphrasis means. For all I have to say to the contrary, it may be absolutely essential that there should be representatives of the trade unions appointed under paragraph (b); but I should like to have that explained to us. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will help us. What is the effect of these words? The Minister has to consult with bodies. Does that mean that he must not consult with individuals except as representing bodies, or does it not? I think that it is of some importance that we should know. If it does mean that he must only consult with organised bodies, I think that we ought to have more indication of the sort of bodies than can be gathered merely from the fact that one sort of body is to be trade unions, which is all the guidance given by the Clause as printed: I think that we ought to be given something more than that. The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth)—I do not know if he carefully read this part of the Clause—said that the council was entirely the wrong body for the employees to be represented on. I dare say that he is right, but the only thing clear is that the only bodies who are certain to be more or less indirectly represented—
That may be so, but we should have it more authoritatively explained than by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. I am still not clear what is meant about it. I should have thought that it would have meant trade unions in the industries which use steel. That would have been my guess. Of course, every industry uses steel, directly or indirectly, more or less, but at what point of indirection are we disqualified from saying, "Please, I am a trade union that uses steel," I cannot guess at all. I should have thought that we ought to have had some indication about that.
There is a point here which I hope the Solicitor-General can deal with—it may be that this is a common form or has been fully explained on earlier and similar Bills subsection 4 (a, b and c). Under paragraph (a) and again under paragraph (c) the matters referred to must affect the interests of the consumers, but under paragraph (b) the matters referred to need not affect the interests of the consumer. This is a council for protecting the interests of consumers. It is, curiously enough, appointed not by consumers but by the Minister and the various people who refer things to it must refer only those who concern the interests of consumers, but the Minster may refer things to it whether or not they concern the interest of the consumers, upon the face of it, unless there is some legal implication which I am not learned enough to guess, or unless there is some other explanation which has already been given and with which other Members of the House are familiar, that is the effect.
There is another question I should like to put, and I hope that perhaps again the Solicitor-General may tell us about this. What does subsection (13) mean? On the face of it, it seems to be what is called, I think, an identical statement—although I am never very good at formal logic:
Every member of the Council and of every committee appointed by the Council shall hold and vacate his office"—
it sounds rather as if it were cup and ball—
in accordance with the terms of his appointment.
What on earth does that mean? Perhaps, again, there is some legal common form about this which makes it necessary to put in these words, but on the face of it
it seems to me to add absolutely nothing, and I really do think that we ought to have it explained to us.
My last particular question—perhaps I will then ask one more general question—is on subsection (16), about the regulations which the Minister may, after consultation, issue to make modifications. I apologise to the House here. I expect those who have been on the Standing Committee of this Bill are familiar with the Clauses, which generally come near the end of a Bill, about orders, regulations, statutory instruments, and so on under this Bill, and may be able to guess whether and in what sense and to what extent the regulations under subsection (16) of this Clause will be subordinate to Parliamentary authority; that is to say, will they, for instance, be prayable, and so on? It may be that hon. Members who sat throughout the proceedings of the Committee fully apprehend the answer to that, but I do not think the rest of us do, and I do not think we ought to part with this Clause without having that explained to us.
Lastly, I would return to my general point and say—if it is not both fulsome and impertinent for one Member of Parliament to pat on the head his colleagues corporately—that this Debate has not, I think, it will generally he agreed, had more irrelevance or repetition in it than the average Debate in this or any other place. I think it would be generally accepted that this has been a fair Debate, not irrelevant and not repetitive. Now look how much time it has taken. I do ask right hon. Gentlemen, particularly in what one might call the "first eleven" on the other side, whether they really do think it is fair to put guillotines on and to be bringing this sort of thing before us at this sort of stage, requiring the amount of discussion that this Clause does. I would make a large bet that half those now in the House do not now at this moment understand this Clause very clearly. I freely admit that I do not myself.
I should like once more to ask the Treasury Bench if they can a little more fully and clearly expound to us what they expect to be the relation between this Clause and Parliamentary Questions. I think that is still obscure. I quite understand that when the time comes it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to rule about any particular Question or class of Questions, and that anything said now from the Treasury Bench will have no relevance then. But the whole purport and meaning of this Clause and the previous Clause, and particularly of the relations between these two Clauses, is entirely black or white, as the case may be, according to whether there will or will not be ample opportunity, both practically in the sense that Members of the House will be able to get hold of the relevant facts in time, and secondly within the Rules of Order.
What is the relation between these two Clauses—the second of which we are now coming to the end of and the first of which we dealt with earlier this afternoon—and the right of Members to put Questions on the Order Paper? That is a matter, I undertake to say, not understood by anybody in the House now, with the possible exception of someone on the Front Bench opposite. If there be such an exception on the Front Bench opposite he ought to get up and bring the rest of us into that distinguished category of which he is at present the unique member.
This Clause is ostensibly what I might describe as a mechanical Clause—a Clause which constructs a piece of machinery to do a certain job. But although it is a mechanical Clause, it does in fact raise a very deep issue of principle. That issue of principle is perhaps best illustrated by the exchange which took place between the hon. Members for Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). It was the submission of the hon. Member for Keighley that although this Clause was well intentioned it was bound to be ineffective. It was the retort of the hon. Member for Colne—
Because I felt that the hon. Member hardly applied the Nelson touch, on this occasion at any rate, although he often does. It was his submission that if this Clause was ineffective in giving the consumer any real voice in the determination of price, quality, and what-not, we were no worse off, because the consumer had no effective measure of control or influence now. If we approach this Clause with that in mind we shall go astray. It is not true that the consumer now has no power of influencing the course of events. It may well be that some people do not like the method that he exercises, but it is no good saying that he has not got any method, for the truth is that if he does not get what he regards as a fair deal from one firm he is free to transfer his custom to another firm.
Quite obviously, in a general argument I cannot go into every category of steel production. It may be that there are particular types of steel production in which, in effect, there is only one producer. Even if that be the case, in the industry as a whole there is a right of choice on the part of the consumer. Hon. Members opposite may well argue that that right of choice—or, to put it in another way, that freedom of competition—carries with it social consequences so grievous as to outweigh the advantage of the freedom of choice. Now, I am not going into that argument, because that takes us right into the whole issue of whether we should nationalise or not nationalise, which would not be appropriate on this Clause.
Again I do not want to be diverted from my main argument. I only want to say that it seems to me that there is upon those who declare that the disadvantages of the freedom of choice are so great that that freedom of choice must be taken away—a very strong onus to devise some alternative and effective means. If we are to have an artificial substitute for the natural means, we must take steps to see that that artificially constructed alternative can be made effective. With great respect, I say that nobody in his sober senses can pretend that this Clause will give the consumer any effective influence or control whatever.
Let us see what it is to consist of. It is to consist of a consumers' council, which will be presided over by an independent chairman. Now, he will be appointed by the Minister. There will then be not less than 15 or more than 30 other persons, also appointed by the Minister. There will then be two members of the Corporation nominated by the Corporation, which itself will have been appointed by the Minister. So that for all practical purposes all the 32 members—if that is the maximum number; it will be 18 to 33 with the independent chairman—will have been appointed by the very Minister whose activities and directions to the industry they are supposed, if not to control at any rate substantially to influence.
This is, indeed, not even appealing from Philip drunk to Philip sober; it is appealing from plain Philip to plain Philip. This is a problem which has to be considered in the new economy we are building up. Whether we like the economy or not, it presents new problems, and the first problem it presents is how, when we substitute super-monopoly for either competition or partial monopoly, we can keep that super monopoly in the hands of the public. That is the problem, and we do not find the answer in any consumers' council. We have seen that in the case of coal. The average working woman in my constituency who writes about coal, the quality, the price or the amount of slate in it, writes to me because she regards me, firstly, as her Member of Parliament, secondly, because I am extremely accessible and, thirdly, because I am intensely human. Does anyone believe that the average woman in the back streets of Blackpool, Birmingham, Nelson and Colne, or Rugby, when she is told, as I shall have to tell her, "My dear, you have a consumers' council now. It is no good coming to me, you must go to the consumers' council," that she will go anywhere near the council?
It is perfectly true that the average housewife does not order tons of steel, but she does go around ordering an occasional 5 cwt. of coal. One would not expect the housewife to go to the consumers' council in the case of the steel industry in the same way as she would go to the consumers' council in the case of the coal industry. The point I am trying to make is that we cannot get her to go to the coal consumers' council, because she regards it as a piece of officialdom that is potentially hostile and certainly alien, between which and her there exists no organic relation. The consumers' council, in the case of the coal industry, has not operated to give us clean coal, and it has certainly not operated to give us cheap coal. I know that the comparison is unfair, and I make it therefore with reservations. I remember coal being delivered to my house at 14s. to 16s. a ton.
I agree that there was a monstrous social injustice. The miners and the agricultural workers—the two most socially useful bodies—have always been at the bottom of the wages list except in times of war, and I welcome the change which has taken place. But do not forget that the price of coal is now about £5 5s. per ton instead of 16s.
The hon. Member would not argue that because the consumers' council set up under the coal nationalisation legislation is not very effective—conceding that for the sake of the argument—it necessarily follows that this totally different council for a totally different industry and totally different class of consumer will also be ineffective?
I would be the last person to allege that there is a meticulous identity between one industry and another—of course, they are all different. What I want to tell the hon. Member, and this will be found in the insurance world, is that the attitude of the individual man or woman in the back streets dealing with an insurance agent is one thing, but when that agent is put behind a desk in a Government office the relationship is immediately altered. I have seen that from both sides of the Civil Service. I say, therefore, that this cannot be an effective way of giving the consumer a voice in the determination of price control, and I urge, not with hostile intent, that now that we have a large parcel of industries under national ownership, with more scheduled to come under national ownership, the Government must apply their mind to the problem of how to ensure that these vast monopolies are kept under a measure of public control. The present situation is that they are not being kept under public control.
I do not know what Mr. Speaker's Ruling will be about questions on the Corporation or its constituent firms. Suppose that he gives the most liberal Ruling, and that we can interrogate the Minister not merely on the Corporation, but on the 106 firms. How much really effective influence can we bring to bear upon the Minister, even if we had that liberty? All that we should get beyond that would perhaps be a day's Debate once a year. Presumably we should have an annual report from the Minister, with perhaps a day's Debate, in which half a dozen Members on each side of the House may participate, but they will not be able to affect the decision of the House which will be taken by whatever the majority may be at the time. In the case of the Post Office we have considerable freedom to interrogate. We can interrogate in detail on telephones, mail deliveries, wages of postmen and all sorts of other things, and on top of that we have a Debate on the Estimates. Does anyone believe that we exercise any effective control as a Parliament over the Post Office? Bless my soul, if we had, the Post Office would not be making a profit of between £13 million to £20 million, because that is the absolute negation of the principle of "production for use and not for profit."
Suppose that there is a big deficit in the industry. Presumably that will introduce budgetary considerations. Suppose that there is a big profit. Then comes the question whether the profit ought to be devoted to the relief of taxation, the improvement of wages, or reduction in prices, or a combination of all these three things. How can that be regulated—
That is all very fine, but the trouble about phrases like that is that they have to be stepped down from generalisation to practical decision. The public interest includes wages, prices and the level of taxation. How can a consumers' council, constructed, on the model outlined here, deal effectively with that? If they cannot deal with it, and we cannot, what is the logical conclusion? That we shall have created a super- monopoly which is outwith the control of anybody except the Minister. Little as I dislike tyranny when exercised by employers, I like tyranny when exercised by Government Departments very little better, and I therefore hope that the Government will consider the whole problem of the relationship between nationalised industries and the public interest, as it is involved in the Clause now before the House.
It is obvious that the Minister and his officials have been extremely industrious since the Committee stage in their efforts to draft this voluminous Clause. No one will quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman in his statement that the Clause raises a point of very great importance, but what he did not say was what he had in mind about its operation. With great respect, this is not so much a matter of Ministerial verbosity as administration. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) put his finger on the spot a short time ago, I think, when he asked whether this would be a practical body or a facade. After all, the steel industry has plenty of consumers; directly and indirectly the number must be immense. It is, by the way, interesting to note that the party which, at Hastings the other day, hoisted the flag of the consumers' interests has been completely conspicuous by its absence during the whole of this discussion. However, that is a matter for them and not for me.
When introducing the Clause, the Minister said that the Consumers' Council would remedy certain consumers' problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) dealt with that effectively when he pointed out that what is embodied here is the word "may," which he was anxious to change to "shall." I think that is a relevant point because it is not so long ago since a body of a similar kind was established under another Measure—the Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Act. I had the honour to serve on the Standing Committee which dealt with that Measure when there was produced, with an equal flourish of trumpets, the National Investment Council. We said then, "Here is a stage army, a piece of window dressing." That was three years ago. The Solicitor-General will no doubt remember that that Council has held one meeting a year since then, and has now fallen into a desuetude which is a prelude to official recognition of dissolution.
I believe that Members on both sides of the House are entitled to ask what is envisaged in the operation of this Consumers' Council. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has instanced a number of the principal difficulties which arise over this proposal but as time presses, and as there is another matter which, we would like to discuss before the Guillotine puts an end to Ministerial discomfort, I will add only this: were the Clause twice as voluminous, twice as intricate, and had even greater efforts been made to meet all those who have raised objections on this subject the fact would still remain that the consumer cannot be protected at all under any system of nationalisation.
I am sure that the House will agree that we have had a very interesting Debate on this Clause. As has been pointed out, there is not a lot of time left, so I shall be unable to give answers to all the points which have been raised. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said that the Clause was a good one, that the Government had taken notice of what was said in Committee—we pay tribute to the constructive ideas which were put forward there—and that it was a great improvement on the one which was originally in the Bill.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me, but I went on to say that although it was the best that could be devised in the circumstances, it would prove to be entirely ineffective.
That should not require to be said, because anything put forward by the Government is always assumed by the Opposition to be completely and hopelessly ineffective. Much has been said about my right hon. Friend deliberately designing a Clause which would be negligible in effect. This is what my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading:
It is essential that where there is a powerful monopoly consumers should be able to get their grievances not only aired, but righted. This is normally impossible under a privately-owned monopoly. But it can be done under a publicly-owned monopoly. To do this the Bill proposes the setting up, either of a number
of consumers' committees, or one consumers' committee with a number of sub-committees, where the views of consumers can be fully considered.
This is the important part:
The Bill does not say precisely how these committees will be composed, for the very reason that we consider it to be of the greatest importance that they should be swift and effective; and this, we feel, can best be secured after consulting the consumer interests concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th November. 1948; Vol. 458, c. 68.]
My right hon. Friend said it was his intention to take advice from all consumer interests and trade unions. The right hon. Member for Aldershot has said that, although he does not like the Clause, it is the best that can be expected in the circumstances.
Surely the Minister must correct his hon. Friend in this. The Parliamentary Secretary read out words which, clearly, were defending the Clause as then drafted, and went on to say that they made it plain that the Minister meant to listen to representations for re-drafting. But the right hon. Gentleman must know that what the words said and meant was that the Clause was drafted loosely and flexibly in order that the opinion of the Committee might be such as he might desire, and not in order that there might be more amendment in its passage through the House. I appeal to the Minister to correct his hon. Friend.
There is no need for my right hon. Friend to correct me. I have read the words in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The intention of my right hon. Friend was not to lay down any hard-and-fast rule about the Consumers' Council. The right hon. Member for Aldershot smiles, but that was my right hon. Friend's deliberate intention.
I have not said that I do not know what the words mean. In my simple way, and with lack of that kind of education which is often evidenced by what is thrown across the Floor of the House, I perfectly well understand what those words convey. The intention was deliberate. It was that my right hon. Friend would listen to consumers' points of view and, arising therefrom, would introduce, at a later stage, a re-drafted Clause, which is the one now before the House. If the Opposition care to interpret that intention as being something different, that is their affair and not the affair of the Government.
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) took the opportunity of airing his views on the question of the interest of the workers on the Consumers' Council, but he went rather wide of what this new Clause intends. If he would read it carefully and study the constitution of the Corporation itself, he would find that room has been made for the interests and points of view of the workers. They will be taken care of on the Corporation itself and room has been made inside the Consumers' Council for them. They are one of the bodies referred to by the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), whose legal points will be dealt with by the Solicitor-General. The question as to who are the consumers is interesting to the workers.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the workers' point of view, was provided for. I did not follow what he meant by that. Does he refer in that respect to a system of joint consultation which is going to be taken up? If so, the point I should like to make is that it is ineffective unless there is a top-level body on which joint consultation can express its point of view.
I do not want to press this in any great detail, but I want to make the point that the workers' bodies will be represented at least by one individual on the Corporation itself. On the Consumers' Council there will be, as laid down, room for the workers' interests to be represented. No consumer could put forward points of view as to prices, quality or quantity without the interests of the workers and their wages and conditions being considered. It would be physically and practically impossible to do so, particularly in the iron and steel industry, where the workers' interests and wages are so vitally tied up to production.
The word "may" is the correct one to use. To lay down the word "shall" in this respect would involve us going into details of prices, constitution, and so on. It is a matter for the council itself to take care of, as they surely will. When we speak of the consumers' interests we have in mind the engineer at his bench in works such as that controlled by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot, whose concern uses a tremendous amount of steel for the various articles which are produced. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough can definitely take it that the interests of the workers will be taken care of both on the Corporation and inside the Consumers' Council.
The question of time is important, and I could elaborate on this to a greater extent, giving an interesting discourse on how this problem of workers' representation might be solved, and so on. In the workers' councils discussions in regard to quality, quantity and prices are taking place every day of every week, and the Consumer's Council will be the funnel through which these questions will go to the Corporation to be taken care of. Anyone with a practical knowledge of the industry knows that this system can be worked as stated.
This point is of great importance to us on this side of the House. My hon. Friend suggests that a workers' representative will be on the Corporation. Will that not be a precedent in establishing these different boards, because in no other nationalised industry have we got a workers' representative? What we have is someone selected from the ranks of the workers, which is not the same thing.
The point raised by my hon. Friend seems to indicate that the person selected is elected from amongst the workers directly on to the Corporation, but that is not so. What I said was that the workers' interests would be taken care of, because there would be on the Corporation at least one person who would take care of the workers' interests. I said that and I mean that. I must leave it at that. The question of industrial democracy and the other interesting arguments put forward by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough is a subject on which we could spend a considerable amount of time.
The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) made the point that this would be a matter of producers versus consumers, and that this would develop into a struggle between producers and consumers. He said that in both cases they would seek to get the best possible out of the industry for themselves. The intention of this Bill is to get the best possible out of the geological wealth of this country for the benefit of the whole people and not for the benefit of any individual interests. To suggest that the present set-up in the industry will be so altered as to create the system suggested by the hon. Member for Flint is a libel both on the management in the industry and on the grand men who are doing what they are doing at the present, and whose performances have earned the admiration of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why nationalise it then?"] We hear cries from the Opposition, "Why nationalise it?" The performance now taking place, which is resulting in increased tonnage day by day, and by which output increases the more the nearer we get to the day when this Bill will become law, is due to the workers' knowledge that nationalisation is coming. We will leave it at that.
The hon. Member for Flint raised the question of coal. In reply, may I say if the Opposition had been left in charge of the country after the last election we would not at this moment be discussing the question of the price of coal, but whether there would be any coal at all. That is important. The hon. Member went on to suggest that my right hon. Friend and the Government knew that the prices would increase. That, too, is a libel upon those people left in charge of the industry, and who at the moment are so successfully doing their job.
I have not the time to give way. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), to whose contributions in Committee we listened with care and attention because he has some practical knowledge of the industry which gives him the right to speak with authority, talked about the "spurious" Clause which my right hon. Friend originally put in. I explained as carefully as I was able that it was not put in with the intention of being spurious, but of seeking information and later bringing before the House a Clause which would meet the wishes of the Opposition and the country at large.
The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), whom I do not see in his place now, raised a question about the foreign consumer. This is a detail. The foreign consumer of our products will have his supplier in this country and, through the merchants, shippers and agents will have the right to put his points of view about the goods which he is receiving. In turn those points can he put through to the Consumers' Council so that any point which he has in mind can be raised. The hon. and gallant Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) raised an important point connected with the great consumer interest of the shipbuilding industry in Belfast and in Northern Ireland. He may rest assured that the request that he has made will be taken notice of. Where the question of locality arises under the Clause, it will be taken into consideration, but I make no commitment at this stage. It is an interesting point which ought to be taken care of.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), in a further effort to belittle the Bill, raised points which were ably and conclusively dealt with by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I have no desire at any time to express my opinion in detail on the attitude of mind which has been portrayed across the Floor of the House of Commons, as it was in the Committee, by the hon. Member for Keighley. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) tried to make an argument that consumer interest is not the same as public interest. That is something new to me. The general public are, in the final analysis, the consumers and users of all that is produced in the iron and steel industry. The two terms "consumer interest" and "public interest" are synonymous, to my simple mind. The question of what is the public interest could be debated here for many hours. On this occasion, because of the time taken by the Opposition, His Majesty's Government have not been allowed the time to give expression to what the public interest is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) raised questions similar to those put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough. He was rather worried about the workers' lack of representation. I am satisfied that we can give him further detailed information which will satisfy him. The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who has apparently gone to refresh himself, raised some major problems. He seemed to assume that when the Bill becomes law all the knowledge, the "know-how," the technical skill and financial knowledge which our people in the industry now have will not be at the disposal of His Majesty's Government.
One would be led to believe that immediately the vesting date occurs all the people who are today making such a magnificent contribution to our national recovery will cease to give of their best. He should not worry. I say, on behalf of managements and men, that so far as can be ascertained there is no indication that that will happen. The noble Lord's predictions were based upon a false assumption and are what he and some of his party probably would like to see happen. The noble Lord should not worry one tiny bit about it.
The noble Lord also said that there will cease to be competition. I could talk for a long time about competition. Members of the Opposition, and all who are well versed in the industry, know that the word "competition" has been eliminated for many years from the iron and steel industry in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Yes, for many years indeed. We must not forget the magnificent achievements that are taking place at this very minute inside the steel industry. They will continue, and indeed they will be improved upon as a result of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) paid a tribute to my right hon. Friend, who, he thought, would be the ideal person to be appointed chairman of the Corporation. He went on to suggest that no one human being could control an organisation of the size of this industry. I would remind my hon. Friend that in America far greater organisations and production interests are being well taken care of by one individual at the top. Are we in this country less well able to control iron and steel than they are in America—the people whom we taught how to make iron and steel and run the business—and are we any less fitted to do it than they are? The answer is, of course, "No." The hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) congratulated the Minister, not for the first time, and said he thought that the proposed new Clause would be very effective.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are the cause of the time being taken up, in that they have asked the questions. They no doubt wish to get the answers and I am answering their questions. I promised the House to give the best answers I could within the time left at my disposal. Long speeches have been made and many questions have been asked, and there would be a complaint if no answer were made from this side of the House. The Opposition complain, whichever way the cat jumps. The hon. Member for Ecclesall suggested that the council would only be effective for the big consumers. I assure him that the interests of the specialists whom he knows best in Sheffield and who make such a contribution, value against volume, will be well taken care of. They employ the people who support this Government. We have a great interest there, and we must take care of it.
I can give no undertaking either for Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, or any of the producing centres, that they shall have any specialised or preferential treatment under the proposed new Clause. The smaller men will be taken great care of, even to the point of workers' representatives. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), to whom we always listen with interest, described this Clause as mechanical. That was something new. If the Clause can work, we hope that the hon. Member's idea will be right and that this Clause will be a mechanical one which can work. The hon. Member went on to make various suggestions and put forward ideas of his own for making the Clause better.
I do not think there are any other points raised by the Opposition which require a specific answer. I apologise to the House for taking so much time, but the Opposition, and they alone, must hold themselves responsible, by having asked so many questions.