Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1950.

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Photo of Mr Roland Jennings Mr Roland Jennings , Sheffield, Hallam 12:00 am, 7th March 1950

When hon. Members opposite hear the truth they do not like it and they immediately introduce another comparison on an entirely different point, just as they have done with the housing problem. It is a fact that to say to the electors that any planning by the present Government has maintained full employment is a complete deception. I speak earnestly on this point because I believe that the products of the steel industry, particularly those from Sheffield, are of the highest quality and that the industry is the best dollar earner that we have.

The Prime Minister may be appeasing some of his back benchers by saying that the Government will bring into operation in the ordinary way the Iron and Steel Act. If he is a statesman, as I should like to see him in our present difficulties, he ought to stand at the Despatch Box and say, "In the interests of the country there will be no nationalisation of the iron and steel industry." Then he would rise to greater heights. But in his arguments in defence of the Gracious Speech he waffled about and so did the Lord President of the Council. All he did was to try to taunt the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did it very well."] It was excellent as an acrobatic act but, after all, he was not sent here to be an acrobat. It was most undignified conduct for the Lord President of the Council. I have been a Member of this House since 1931 and I saw our fortunes in the last Parliament. We are now reinforced by a strong army and though hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that they won the General Election, there was never a better photo-finish—they just got there. I feel certain that as time goes on the Lord President of the Council will taper off. We of the Opposition are prepared to co-operate if he takes the right attitude and does not continue to think that he enjoys the same majority that his party had in the last Parliament. We are almost evenly divided.

I wish to make a plea to the Government, particularly to the Prime Minister. We are ready and willing, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, provided that the Government bring in no contentious legislation, which is only right—[Interruption.] The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that they come here thinking that they know everything. When another point of view is put one gets nothing but all this jeering, because they really do not understand the situation at all. I warn them that the economic situation before us needs extremely careful handling. Economically we are fighting for our very lives and for the employment of our people. I could not be more earnest and serious when I ask hon. Members to try, if they can, to drop the purely party line, at any rate for the time being. To nationalise iron and steel would strike a great blow at our economic structure today. The acid test is this. How can a Government Department produce steel, in the conditions which I have described, on better terms than private enterprise? It is absolute nonsense to think of it.

I notice also that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about cleaning up and making more efficient the nationalised industries. We heard a lot about it during the election, but the Government seem to have forgotten it. Now we have the coal industry and transport fighting one against the other and increasing the price of coal and thus causing a rise in the price of steel. The economic circumstances of this country should be more fully understood by the Government, because the situation of the country is serious.

I want to raise a word of alarm. We are definitely on the brink of an economic crisis, which will need careful handling, and I would say to the Lord President that, if he is more moderate in his speeches, he will get co-operation from the Opposition, but that he cannot expect us now to take what we had to take in the last Parliament, because we are boxing better and have had some reinforcements. I make this plea to the Prime Minister and the Lord President that, if they want co-operation from this side they should just soft pedal a bit and—