I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end, to add:
But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals relating to the iron and steel industry and road haulage which will not assist the national effort but will create anxiety and uncertainty in two vital industries.
The King's Speech consists for the most part of a number of platitudinous generalisations whose purpose, no doubt, is to conceal the fact that the Government have no plans for carrying into effect the promises of better times made during the General Election. But there are two noteworthy exceptions to this. They are the two positive proposals, or perhaps they should be called the two negative proposals, which are the subject of this Amendment, both of which, if implemented, are bound in varying degree to damage our economy.
It seems that neither of these proposals has been thought out and that no Member of the Government, so far at any rate, has the vaguest idea how and to what extent they are to be implemented or what the consequences will be. Certainly, no case has yet been made and, indeed, no serious argument has been advanced to show in what way the suggested changes can possibly benefit British industry. Benefit private interests—yes, certainly. Fat profits are likely to flow into certain private hands at the expense and, in our view, to the serious detriment of the public interest.
We on these benches expect that sort of policy from the Conservative Party, but as we are here to protect the public interest, we strongly object to both these proposals and we shall do everything we can, within the proper limits of Parliamentary procedure, to prevent the damage which, if carried, these proposals are bound to inflict on the welfare of the nation.
I want to deal first with the proposal
to facilitate the extension of private road haulage activities.
I very much hope that whoever is to reply for the Government will tell us precisely what is meant by that. It may mean much, or it may mean nothing much. I hope we shall be told, too, what the case is for any alteration in the present setup in the industry, apart from appeasing the voracious demands of the Road Haulage Association and filling their hungry pockets. What we want to know is how this proposed change is likely to strengthen the transport system of the country.
The House will remember that one of the main purposes of the nationalisation of the transport industry was to carry out what every commission of inquiry into the industry and what every Conservative Minister of Transport between the wars has advocated, that is, an effective coordination between all forms of transport, particularly road and rail.
Without such full co-ordination, the railways—and I think every authority agrees on this—are bound to be in a permanent state of near-bankruptcy and suffer recurring crises such as occurred in the late thirties, when the railway companies launched their nation-wide "square deal" campaign. The financial instability of the railways at that time stopped the carrying out of many urgently needed developments, the lack of which is still today seriously handicapping the country and causing grave inconvenience to the travelling public.
It was not only the public who suffered; so did the railway employees, indeed more directly and acutely, for they and their families had to put up with a level of wages not much above the poverty line. Does the Government's policy, as set out in the by King's Speech, mean that they intend by slow stages to go back to that unhappy state of affairs?
The Conservative Government of the day referred the problems raised by the "square deal" campaign to the Transport Advisory Council, which in due course made certain recommendations to harmonise road and rail charges. These were put forward as a stop-gap arrangement to last about five years during which time the Council hoped that something more permanent would have emerged. It is of interest to the House to be reminded that Lord Leathers, who was subsequently Minister of Transport, said about these proposals in 1943 that they
failed to reach the root of the problem ….
and that he was
firmly convinced that some more radical solution had still to he found.
It now appears that Lord Leathers is in favour of less co-ordination between road and rail; of allowing the more profitable traffics on the road side to be drained off into private hands, thus inevitably undermining the strength and financial stability of the railways. We should like to know why he is taking this view.
I say that there is a profit to be made in the road haulage side of the industry, particularly by creaming off the best traffic, and that that would damage the railway system of the country.
I was asking why Lord Leathers, who had apparently changed his opinion, is taking his present view; whether he considers that this new line is right on its merits or whether he has swallowed the proposal reluctantly because of the commitments of the Conservative Party to the Road Haulage Association.
Does anyone with the slightest knowledge of the transport problem deny that the hiving-off of any substantial area of road transport from the unified transport system would have a most serious effect on the railways, on which the whole fabric of British industry and society depends? I ask the House to note what the "Economist" said in its issue of
3rd November about the consequences of any such hiving-off. It asks a number of questions, which I should like to read, and which I hope the Government will answer. It stated:
The 25-mile limit can be abolished and the Commission can be instructed to divest itself of its road holdings as opportunity offers.
But to do this will leave two large difficulties. First, what is to be done with the railways? Faced once again with the competition of a free enterprise road transport industry, and burdened with the inflated costs of a period of full employment, it is very doubtful whether the railways can be made to pay. Even if they could it is more than doubtful whether anyone would buy them.
They must, therefore, remain in public ownership, and there seem only three courses of action open: to make road transport artificially expensive, so that the railways can compete; to prohibit certain varieties of traffic on the roads; or to pay a subsidy. The Government will have to choose which it wants.
Which is it to be? Will the Government tell us? Are the Government prepared to make road transport artificially expensive? If so, let them tell us today. Or are they prepared to prohibit certain varieties of traffic on the road? If so, we ought to be told that this Conservative Government contemplates imposing such new heavy and severe restrictions on industry. Will the taxpayers be asked to pay more so that some road hauliers may make profits? I beg the spokesman for the Government to tell us which one of these inevitable consequences of handing over all or part of road haulage to private interests they propose to accept.
I should like to ask the Government one further question. Will they accept the demands put to them by the Road Haulage Association and published in the Press on 30th October? The Road Haulage Association is really a remarkable body. It knows what it wants and is determined to get it, uninhibited by any sense of shame or public decency. And it does not believe in wasting time in importuning the Exchequer.
Will the Conservative Party stand by its friends? The Road Haulage Association certainly considers the Conservative Party its friend. I well remember quoting to the House during the Second Reading of the Transport Bill an instruction sent out by that Association to all its members asking them to telegraph their
M.P.s protesting against that Measure. The instructions were:
On the morning of 17th December, without fail, send a telegram to your Member of Parliament, Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, condemning the Bill. You should remember that all Conservative M.P.s are on our side and word your telegram therefore, more politely to them than to the supporters of the Government.
The Association has now, and not very politely, told Conservative M.P.s what it wants. In short, it wants swag. It suggests that there should be complete denationalisation of all road haulage, and the Chairman of the Association, Mr. Fowler, is quoted as saying that he considers nationalisation un-British. It also appears that what the Association wants is that those firms who were compulsorily bought out should get back their assets free, and that those who voluntarily sold their assets should have to pay to get them back.
It is, incidentally, a curious proposition that those who were prepared to cooperate with a Government in carrying out Parliamentary decisions should be penalised, and those who resisted rewarded Do the Government agree with this suggestion of the Road Haulage Association? And do they agree that the £20 million to £25 million, which according to that Association was the amount paid in compensation, should be written off, that is, should be given to the road hauliers by the public as a free gift—as a reward, for what? Service to the country? Surely not. Service to the Conservative Party? I do not know.
I hope that we shall be told to what extent these demands are to be met by the Conservative Party, and to what extent they propose to dislocate the transport system of Great Britain for the benefit of these private interests and in pursuance of their ideological doctrines.
I wish now to talk on a subject with which I have, in recent years at any rate, become more familiar, that is, steel. Again I want to ask a number of questions. What do the Government propose to do here, and why? Have they considered the difficulties involved and the dire consequences that are likely to result, We have been told that a Bill to bring about the denationalisation of the steel industry will be brought before us in February. Can the Government tell us today, not the detail—that would be too much to expect —but the principles on which that Bill will be framed, or has not any thought been given to that? We should particularly like to hear the comment of the Government on the extraordinary suggestion advanced by, of all people, the leader of the Liberal Party in this House, that the Government should try to circumvent an Act of Parliament by an Order in Council; and by such order take some steps now to anticipate the Bill which we are to discuss later.
We on this side of the House are, of course, wholly opposed to the denationalisation of steel, for reasons which I will advance in a few moments. But it is not only the Labour Party which asks the Government, in the national interest, to be wary of what they do in this connection. Staunch friends of the Conservative Party are saying the same thing. It appears that responsible and influential sections of Conservative opinion are alarmed by the threat to repeal the nationalisation of this industry, and appreciate fully that to do so is not only technically unsound as well as difficult, but may well upset the national apple-cart.
Let us consider what the "Financial Times," a paper which perhaps, as I know all too well, has more than any other consistently and vehemently—and I think sometimes a little unfairly—attacked the nationalisation of iron and steel. In a very interesting leading article which it published on 6th November, after making an observation which I believe is absolutely true—
The process of unscrambling is always more complicated than the process of scrambling "—
it goes on to say:
The Conservatives must beware of the charge which they themselves used with great force against the Socialists in the debates of the last Parliament: the charge of distracting the industry at a critical time.
The steel industry was not perfect before it was nationalised"—
incidentally, what an interesting admission. Previously we have been told by the "Financial Times," all the Conservative papers and all Conversative Members in this House, that this industry was a paragon of all the virtues, that it was 100 per cent. efficient and that anybody who made any comment to the contrary must
obviously be inspired by pernicious Socialist propaganda.
—"it is not perfect now.
A few sentences later the leading article says:
The Conservatives have every right to endeavour to restore it. What is most important of all, however, is to ensure that whatever is done will have at least a reasonable chance of being widely acceptable. It would be worse than ludicrous if the steel industry was to find itself nationalised and de-nationalised with every change of Government.
And here is the conclusion of the article:
Nevertheless, though the Conservatives are bound to make their intentions plain, they will have to proceed with caution and conciliation. The efficiency of the industry in the future must weigh more with them than any arguments drawn from the contentions of the last two Parliaments. Though the organisation and the pattern of ownership of 15th February is bound to condition their thought, it should not be allowed to prejudice it.
I suggest that this advice, coming as it does from a paper which reflects a substantial section of City and business opinion, is highly significant, to put it at its lowest, and I should imagine that its views will find a ready response among supporters of the Government who do not allow party prejudice to override their concern for the national welfare.
In the same issue of the "Financial Times," there is an informative article, the main feature article of the day by Mr. Harold Wincott, who, after making an obviously deep and professional study of the matter, writes about the difficulties which will confront the Government in seeking new private owners of the industry. I should like to quote one important sentence from the article:
(Incidentally, if the Conservatives are toying with the idea of some form of dividend limitation on top of E.P.T., they may as well make up their minds they can either have steel de-nationalisation or dividend limitation. They can't have both.)
Well, the Chancellor tells us that he does propose to introduce E.P.T., and although there is to be no statutory limitation of dividends he has emphatically expressed the view that it is contrary to the national interest that dividends should be increased. I assume that this injunction will be acted upon by the iron and steel industry—I can scarcely imagine that if they were de-nationalised they could ignore it—and it would seem that, in summary, the view of the "Financial Times" is that, while it does not like
nationalisation a bit, its repeal would be both undesirable and, indeed, impossible.
We shall see. It may be that the ingenuity of my successor in answering the arguments of this journal and overcoming the difficulties which it foresees may prove greater than any of us at present anticipate. Or dare we hope that he will put his foot down, heed the expert advice that has been tendered to him from his more responsible political friends, and refuse to commit the follies and create the damage which the Prime Minister is pressing him to do? In either case it would appear to be unwise for anyone to assume at the moment that the de-nationalisation of steel will necessarily reach the Statute Book.
If the Government are unprepared to accept the advice of the "Financial Times," in spite of its staunch and loyal friendship for the Conservative Party, it will, I suppose, be less likely to listen to the views of the "Economist" whose views are now and again a little more objective. But this paper was just as fervently opposed to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Perhaps for that reason, and because of its high standing among financial and industrial circles in this and other countries, the House at least will be interested in what it says on this subject. I will quote from the issue of the "Economist" of 3rd November:
If there is an attempt to put everything back into the state it was in two years ago, then the net effect will be to substitute a very tight privately owned cartel for a very tight publicly owned cartel, which would hardly be an improvement. Whatever may be the objection on political grounds to the nationalisation of the industry and to Mr. Hardie's methods, there can be little doubt that the re-grouping and nationalisation of the industry on functional and technical lines that the Corporation is believed to have in mind, would be to the national advantage.
The way to de-nationalise steel is not to try and sell it back in exactly the same parcels that were acquired (except where a whole plant was acquired from a single owner, as in the case of a technically integrated subsidiary) but first to do it up in different and technically more balanced parcels. This will take time, and the Corporation should be given say three years to accomplish the job …
It is also perhaps worth sounding the warning that the only form of selling the industry back to the public that will be worth while, will be genuine sales to private shareholders venturing equity capital. If such capital is not forthcoming—and investors who are once bitten may perhaps be twice shy—it would
be better to leave things as they are rather than to set up some sort of semi-public, semi-private corporation, financed by fixed-interest capital. A privately owned industry will be preferable to the present arrangement only if it is in diverse ownership, flexible and competitive to a higher degree than has prevailed since 1932. The de-nationalisation of steel will not he a simple operation, but a very complicated one!
Indeed it will be, and it is clear from the extracts of the two papers I have quoted to the House that when the Government embark upon this task, they will have to face cannons to the right of them, as well as cannons to the left of them.
I now propose to tell the House what our attitude is to the Government's proposal to de-nationalise. We brought this industry under public ownership and control for practical reasons, which appear to us to be conclusive. They have often been stated here by me and by my colleagues, and I do not propose to repeat them at any length. In brief, in one sentence, I will say this. We took the action we did because, with coal and transport, steel is one of the basic industries on which the prosperity of this island and its people depends; because the interests of its private owners were frequently in conflict with the national interest; because it was a monopoly which, in the words of the leader of the Liberal Party in this House
had all the faults of monopoly, but not the usual benefits of monopoly";
and further, because it was impossible to assure the necessary expansion of this industry and the adequate production of British iron and steel to meet our possible needs in war or to maintain full employment in peace unless this industry is planned and operated wholly and solely in the public interest.
So we devised a plan to bring this about and embodied it in a Bill which enabled the transfer of this industry from private to public ownership to take place without any dislocation whatever. In spite of the decision of the political leaders of the iron and steel industry, who, it will be remembered, at the time tried to make it impossible for the Government to operate the Act and to set up a Corporation, nevertheless the transfer has taken place—I do not think anyone can question this—with the utmost smoothness and success. Subsequently, I am glad to say, there has been a genuine and full measure of co-operation between the Corporation and the directors and managements of the steel industry.
In spite of the shortage of raw materials that confronted the Corporation, the Corporation has not only made a good start in carrying out the duties which Parliament imposed upon it, but it has already made many valuable changes. Therefore, I say that, whatever disagreements people may have had, or still have, about the principle of nationalising the iron and steel industry, the fact is that today this industry is working well under the new régime, and the fears expressed by technicians and managers that undue interference with their proper responsibilities and functions was likely to happen, have proved unfounded.
Are there, then, we are bound to ask, any sound practical grounds on which the Government are justified in dislocating the whole of this industry now? Can the Minister of Supply suggest one single measure taken by the Corporation that has been harmful? I can speak of many where their action has been demonstrably beneficial, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman probably knows about them now as well as I do.
There is, for example, the much needed step taken on the initiative of the Corporation, and referred to by the right hon. Gentleman at Question time today, to strengthen that vital section of the industry's organisation called B.I.S.C. (Ore)—the body responsible for acquiring foreign ores and scrap for the industry. Or we can take an even more striking example which, incidentally, reveals the faulty structure of the industry and its weakness under private enterprise? Then, when iron and steel firms had surplus funds at their disposal, they lent them to the banks at a nominal rate of interest. Those firms who needed funds borrowed from the banks, for which they had to pay out substantial rates of interest. Now there is a common fund which the Corporation has established into which all firms pay surplus moneys, and from which all those in need of loans draw their requirements. This is saving the industry £500,000 in interest rates only.
Is not this—and there are many others—a valuable improvement? Do the Government want to destroy all these and other changes for the better which the Corporation have initiated? I challenge the Minister of Supply to tell us of one specific example of change for the worse brought about by the Corporation under the nationalised set-up in the discharge of its duties. If he cannot accept that challenge, is not the only conclusion one can draw that the Government's proposals are not concerned with the welfare of this industry, but are based solely on doctrinaire prejudices?
The transfer of this industry from private enterprise to public ownership revealed many serious defects in its structure. Most important of all these defects —and I think this will surprise right hon. Gentlemen opposite—was its over-centralisation in Steel House. I believe that anyone with any knowledge of large-scale industrial organisation would say that great advantage would accrue by a measure of de-centralisation in this industry. That is exactly what the Corporation were proposing to do. [Laughter.] That is the scheme referred to in the article in the "Economist" from which I read. Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh, but really they do not know. I do know what the Corporation had in mind.
The Corporation were proposing to group the industry, in part regionally and in part functionally, and they were beginning to work out a scheme to effect this with the best technical experts in the industry.
The test of the qualities of the chairman is what he is doing. It was always contemplated, and I think it was stated on both sides of the Committee when we were discussing this matter, that the chairman of this big organisation would be a man not drawn from the steel industry but from outside.
I was saying that this de-centralisation and re-grouping was being embarked upon by the Corporation with the best experts in the industry. What is to happen to all this important work, and the other important and urgent work, that the Corporation are doing, with the co-operation of the steel industry for the most part, during the next six months while the proposed Bill is before Parliament? Is there to be a hiatus while all this planning stops?
And where is the responsibility for the industry to lie during this critical period? With the Corporation? They are the body to whom Parliament has entrusted this duty and the body to whom Parliament has given the necessary authority—the only body. But how can they possibly exert that authority when every vested interest in the industry, every oppositionist, indeed every director, however cooperative he might be, knows that any request and any scheme put forward by the Corporation may be reversed in six months time?
Is it really so imperative for the Conservative Party to throw this great industry into uncertainty and chaos during this critical period in our economic affairs? If the Conservative Party are convinced that it is, the consequences of their action will, of course, rest squarely on their shoulders. But let them bear in mind that one of those consequences may well be that the distribution of iron and steel products under the proposed allocation scheme will be less effectively controlled, to the detriment of the fulfilment of the armament programme.
The King's Speech talks about an
… adequate measure of public supervision.
Mention has been made in this House, and in one of the leading Conservative papers yesterday, which may have had a preview of what is to be announced to us today, that the Government proposes to set up, without waiting for the steel de-nationalisation Bill, a steel board similar, I gather, to the one that operated for a short time prior to nationalisation. We must await the Minister's speech before we can make any detailed comment upon the Government's proposals, but I must say that at present I cannot see what function such a new hoard can possibly perform, except to blunt responsibility and confuse counsel. But as the alternative merits of a steel board have been frequently ventilated by the Conservative Party, and by the Prime Minister in particular, the House should know exactly what the functions of the old Steel Board were.
It was set up as a stop-gap measure with the duty of advising the Minister on certain technical problems, and carrying out certain limited responsibilities which the Minister delegated to it. Apart from this, it had no power whatever, statutory or otherwise. The main activity of the Steel Board was to check the development plans submitted by individual firms, examine them technically—and they did their work extremely well—and turn down those that did not appear to be justified.
In other words, in so far as they had any authority and indeed in so far as the Minister had any authority in those days, that authority was purely negative. The Board, in fact, was an efficient policeman; all it could say was "Stop." Neither the Board nor the Minister had any power to tell any firm to do what it did not want to do, or, in particular, to spend any money on development which it did not want to spend. How could they? They neither owned the firm's money, nor had they any power over its directors. If a similar board is to be set up by the Minister, it is bound to be similarly negative and restrictive in its powers.
In spite of its declarations, the Conservative Party may be embarking upon a scheme of purely restrictive control, but we on this side of the House do not like that type of control at all. So we say today, as firmly as we have ever said it, that without ownership there cannot be that purposeful, expansionist and organic over-all planning which is so essential for the vital industry of iron and steel.
For these reasons, we propose to resist at every stage and oppose with all the powers at our command any proposal to remove from the authority of Parliament the broad, effective and positive control which it now possesses over the iron and steel industry of this country. If the present Government, nevertheless, succeed in removing that control, we will seek to restore it at the first opportunity.
Moreover, we say that, if all or any section of this industry is now to be handed over to private investors, when the time comes, as it inevitably will, to re-transfer the shareholdings to public ownership, those investors should be compensated on the principle that under no circumstances will the total compensation already paid out be increased. It follows, among other things, that in any such compensation calculation full account will be taken of any dividends which may have been distributed to stockholders in the intervening period over the 3½ per cent. provided by British Iron and Steel Stock.
There are two other observations that I want to make. The first is that the Government say that they want to bring about a better relationship throughout industry, a worthy objective which we all support. But not only in the unions primarily concerned in the steel industry—and I understand that, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) wants to say a few words about these special interests—but in the trade union movement as a whole, there are deep convictions in favour of the public ownership of this industry. On top of the other considerations which I have mentioned, is it therefore really wise and statesmanlike for the Government at this moment to flout all these strongly held convictions, or is it not, as we think, the greatest folly?
Lastly, I suggest that this proposal to transfer from the realm of public service to that of private profit part or the whole of these two important industries must be viewed in the broad political setting that faces us today. Last week, Government spokesmen told the country that they would not be able to carry out any of their promises for raising the standard of life of our people on which they won the Election; in other words, the people have been swindled out of their just expectations.
In marked contrast, one small privileged section of the beneficiaries, whose hopes were raised, are to have them realised at the expense of the public. Private road hauliers are to be allowed to cream off the easy profits from our public transport system, and Steel House is to have its power over the economy of our country restored, while this industry, the basic industry of the country's armament activities, is once more to be a source of private profit.
By these actions, the Conservative Party are showing that it is still today, as it always has been, the party of vested interests, and in moving this Amendment we are confident that we are voicing the views of the great mass of the British people.
I shall endeavour to reply to the main points made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), in moving this Amendment. I shall deal in particular, as the right hon. Gentleman did, with the problems arising on the steel industry, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, when he speaks later in the Debate, will concentrate to a greater extent on the problems of road haulage.
The Amendment on the Order Paper—
The Amendment moved by the Opposition makes two criticisms. The first is that the Government's proposals will not assist the national effort. I notice it is not suggested in the Amendment that our proposals will be actively harmful to the national effort; in their Amendment the Opposition have carefully avoided stating that our proposals would be harmful to the industry, and we —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members will read the Order Paper they will see that that is correct. We have to be grateful for small mercies, and we are, at any rate, grateful for the restraint and moderation which the Opposition have shown in framing this Amendment, though I must say that the right hon. Gentleman in moving it somewhat departed from that tone.
I shall certainly try as far as possible to show moderation and restraint in handling this difficult, and, if I may say so, prickly question. But I must from the outset make it clear that we on this side of the House hold rather more positive views on this question than those expressed in the Amendment. We remain sincerely convinced that the decision to nationalise the iron and steel industry was a very grave error. We believe that the continuance of nationalisation will not only not assist the national effort, but will more and More actively hamper it. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] We regard it as our duty to restore conditions of free enterprise without which, in our opinion, this industry will not be able to make its maximum contribution to the national output.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of steel. I think we can all agree upon that. Steel and steel products, such as ships, vehicles and engineering goods of all kinds, account for about half our total exports. It is clear, therefore, that steel is going to play a major and vital part in the efforts which have now to be made to restore the balance of payments and re-establish the country's solvency. The shortage of steel which exists in all countries at the present moment has had the result of creating a sellers' market throughout the world. However, our exporters cannot rely upon these abnormal conditions continuing indefinitely.
At the present moment, the United States are expanding their steel producing capacity by an amount greater even than the total capacity of the United Kingdom. By the time their re-armament is completed, American steel capacity is likely to be sufficient, not only to meet the continuing needs of American defence and to supply the vast requirements of the American home market, but also to provide a very large surplus for export. The same thing applies to Germany. Germany is steadily recovering her economic strength. Her output of finished steel and of steel products is all the time increasing, and she is once more entering the export markets of the world. The same can be said of Japan. Therefore, it is perfectly clear that before very long British exporters are going to have to face formidable competition.
If we are going to hold our own in the markets of the world, British steel producers must be able to exercise independent initiative and judgment. They must, above all, not be handicapped in relation to their foreign competitors, who are operating under conditions of free enterprise.
The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment argued, and made much of the point, that, since nationalisation, the Iron and Steel Corporation had not interfered drastically or in a damaging way in the affairs of the steel companies under its control. Up to a point, that is perfectly true, but the Corporation has only been in control for a few months. It has clearly not yet got into its stride.
If nationalisation were to continue, the Corporation would, if only to justify its existence, have to become a great deal more active. Gradually, but surely, the units of the steel industry would inevitably become less and less capable of independent initiative and action, and less and less flexible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] These great companies, whose names and reputations stand so high in the world, would more and more lose their separate identity and, with it, much of the goodwill and the specialised markets which they have built up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. The specialised markets and goodwill which have been built up by these companies are a precious national asset and can only be preserved under conditions of reasonable independence, which is, in the long run, quite incompatible with public ownership.
The second criticism made in the Amendment is that our proposals are going to create uncertainty in the industry. We seem to have heard this phrase before. It has a familiar, almost a friendly, ring about it. But, if I may say so, it looks a little unhappy and out of place in its new context. The Opposition are now charging us with creating uncertainty in the steel industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It comes strangely from the party opposite. Who first created the uncertainty? In his speech last week, the right hon. Gentleman who was Chancellor of the Exchequer went so far as to warn the Government against throwing a spanner into the works. It is the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who threw the spanner in. What we are going to do—
I was saying it was the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who threw the spanner into the works by nationalising the industry. What we are going to do is to try and get it out. All this trouble could have been avoided if the Labour Government had taken the advice given to them by the Opposition in the last Parliament. We pointed out to the late Government repeatedly that their proposal to nationalise the steel industry had failed to obtain the support of a majority of the electors.
At two successive elections the electors of this country have voted in a majority for parties opposed to nationalisation. We pointed this out to the Labour Government in the last Parliament, and in view of the probability of an early election we pressed them to postpone vesting to the latest possible date. They paid no heed whatsoever to our appeals. Instead, apparently anticipating the General Election, they rushed their scheme into operation almost at the first possible moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ridiculous."] It is not ridiculous. The first possible date on which this scheme could have been brought in was January, 1951. It was brought in in February, 1951.
If the party opposite had been prepared to accept our advice they could have postponed the vesting date as late as 1st January, 1952, under the terms of the Act. As things have turned out, how much better that would have been for the iron and steel industry. If the late Government had postponed the vesting date until they could have tested the opinion of the nation—[An HON. MEMBER: "We did."]—today we would have found none of the uncertainty that is complained of in the Amendment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why do you not wait to test it too? "] We are not waiting because, as I have already stated, at two successive elections a majority of electors in this country have voted against the nationalisation of the industry.
The late Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech last week, to which I have already referred, criticised us not so much because we were proposing to denationalise the steel industry—though I have no doubt he is opposed to it—but because we were choosing to introduce this Measure at a moment when the country was in the throes of an economic crisis.
Perhaps I may be allowed to make my own speech. We are criticised for bringing in this Measure at a time of economic crisis. I ask the party opposite, did the economic and financial crises of 1947 and 1949 prevent their bringing their partisan proposals? In what way is the argument different today?
We are convinced that if we are to get through this economic crisis we need to have the iron and steel industry working at maximum efficiency. And, having decided to denationalise the iron and steel industry, I submit that there are very strong reasons for doing so at once.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether we were aware how difficult the problem was. We are well aware of the difficulties. It is not going to be easy, but I think he would be the first to agree that if we are going to denationalise, the longer we put it off the more difficult the operation will be. The Iron and Steel Corporation, about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke a good deal, has been in control of the industry for only about nine months; yet already it has made certain important alterations in the financial structure and management of the industry. Other more far-reaching changes, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and about which he asked me, are contemplated.
He asks me what we are going to do about these further plans. I am not going to criticise these plans one way or the other; but what is quite clear is that, if we are going to transfer this industry back to free enterprise, any further changes made in the structure of the industry must inevitably complicate the financial operation we have to undertake.
Therefore, we have been considering very carefully what action we should take to stabilise the position in the interval between now and the time when the Bill will be introduced and, as we hope, passed by this House. This is the conclusion to which we have come. After due consultation with the Corporation, as is laid down in the Act, we have decided to issue a statutory direction to the Corporation under the powers conferred by Section 4 of the Iron and Steel Act. So that the House may be fully seized with exactly what we propose I will read the operative passage of the direction.
The Corporation shall not, without my consent "—
that is, the consent of the Minister of Supply—
in writing, take any action in the exercise or performance of their functions which will result in:
I hope that that will be enough to hold the position pending the introduction and passing of legislation.
Our broad intentions in regard to iron and steel were set out in the Election statement which we issued a few weeks ago. However, before that policy can be embodied in legislative form it will, of course, be necessary for the Government to have consultations—
The right hon. Gentleman has read the statement which he proposes to issue as a direction to the Corporation. Am I right in assuming that that means that until this House and Parliament pass the new Bill, if they do, the Corporation are told, "You must do nothing; you must make no changes at all—not even the plans you contemplated"? Are those to be stopped, too?
The direction does not say that at all. It says that the Government must be consulted before further changes are made so that we shall have the opportunity of judging whether the changes contemplated are likely to frustrate the intention of the Government and of the majority Of the Members of this House.
Major matters of change which the Corporation had in view would naturally be brought before the Minister and he would be consulted, so that in so far as those matters are concerned there is no change. But is it not a fact that as far as it goes beyond that, what the right hon. Gentleman is doing is trying to over-set by Order in Council an Act of Parliament passed by this House and put on the Statute Book? Actually, it is a Ministerial direction and not an Order in Council.
Perhaps I might raise a point which may more properly be answered at the end of the debate by the Home Secretary. It is this. I understand that the purpose of the direction which is proposed to be given, or has been given, is to facilitate the ultimate return of the securities of the Iron and Steel Corporation to private ownership. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that that is so. May I ask whether the Law Officers of the Crown have considered whether or not that is within the objects provided for by Sections 4 and 5 of the Act?
Naturally we do not go into action on a matter of this importance without taking the best possible legal advice upon it. I am satisfied, so far as one can ever be satisfied about the law, that this direction is in perfect conformity with the Act. Not only have the Law Officers been consulted, but the Corporation itself has consulted its legal advisers on this question.
Before our policy can be put into legislative form, we shall have to consult the principal bodies representing the main interests affected. In addition to the Iron and Steel Corporation itself, those include the British Iron and Steel Federation, the T.U.C. and the representatives of the steel consuming interests. Until those discussions have taken place I am sure the House would not expect me to put forward detailed proposals. [Interruption.] I do not think the House would expect me to put forward detailed proposals until we have had these consultations. When this party was in power before, again and again when something was announced somebody used to get up from the Opposition Front Bench and ask whether the trade unions had been consulted. If everybody had not been consulted before the announcement was made there was always criticism. Therefore, it seems to me that this is the right way to proceed.
It is no good suggesting that we are not going ahead quickly enough, that we ought to have produced all our proposals cut and dried when Parliament opened. I would remind the House that it took the party opposite about three years to produce their proposals for nationalising steel. If we manage to produce our scheme in about three months we shall not have done too badly.
However, I should like to say something about the two main problems which confront us and to which the Bill must find a solution. The first is the question of finance—that is to say, the financial problem of transferring the industry to free enterprise. These are the facts. Since February the Corporation has been in direct or indirect control of some 290 companies. Some of these companies are wholly owned by the Corporation. Others are subsidiaries in which the Corporation only has a controlling interest. Then there is the question of compensation. Some £240 million have either been paid or are to be paid in the form of Iron and Steel Stock guaranteed by the Treasury. Much of that Stock has changed hands in the intervening months. Meanwhile, as I have already explained, the Corporation has made many alterations in the financial structure of the companies concerned. I mention these facts only to show some of the problems which we will have to take into account in formulating our proposals.
The other main issue is that of public supervision—and the machinery through which that supervision is to be exercised. We, on this side, have always recognised that there must be public supervision, particularly in the field of development policy and prices. We have never, on the other hand, accepted that adequate public supervision can only be obtained at the price of nationalisation with all its restricting effects on the industry. We are supported in this by the much quoted report of the T.U.C. last year, in which the view is clearly expressed that public ownership is not the only practical form of securing adequate public control and that a board, possibly on the lines of the former Iron and Steel Board, if necessary with additional powers, offers an effective alternative to nationalisation. That view was expressed in a report of the Trades Union Congress.
I have the report here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] All right. I will read it. It says:
A more practical means of public control, alternative to both public ownership and development councils, would be a statutory board of control on the lines of the tripartite body described in paragraphs 38 and 39.
These paragraphs refer to the former Iron and Steel Board.
The creation of such a board, representative of Government, management, labour and consumers, will, of course, be an essential feature of the proposals which we shall, in due course, submit to the House. Such a board, unlike the Corporation, could embrace the whole industry, which would be an additional advantage.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to express an opinion upon the proposals made last week by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party who drew attention to the fact that it will be some months before this Bill can be passed into law. The right hon. Gentleman said that it would never find its way on to the Statute Book.
What I said was this. I quoted the authority of the "Financial Times." [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to give way. He has quoted me as saying something which I did not say. I was quoting the view of the "Financial Times" and I said that, in view of their statement, it was obviously unwise for anybody to assume that this Measure would necessarily reach the Statute Book.
I am sorry if I misquoted the right hon. Gentleman, but in his speech it was a little difficult to distinguish between his own views and the extracts from the newspaper which he read out. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party questioned whether it was wise to leave the Corporation in control during these months. He suggested that, using powers under the Supplies and Services Act, I should reconstitute the former Iron and Steel Board to carry out their functions in the interval. I have naturally given very careful consideration to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion. I appreciate the motives which prompted him to make it. But I consider that, in present circumstances, there are reasons which make it inadvisable to follow that course.
The first reason is that the Corporation was created by Act of Parliament and must continue until that Act is repealed. It would, I consider, not be altogether constitutionally proper to try to give to another body powers which Parliament had vested in the Corporation. Moreover—and I hope I shall convince the right hon. and learned Gentleman of this —I do not believe it is in practice necessary. From the negative standpoint, the direction to which I have already referred and which I read to the House will, I am satisfied, ensure that, during the interval, no action will be taken by the Corporation which will make more difficult the task of restoring the industry to free enterprise.
On the positive side; I do not think there is need for any fear that the current problems of the industry will be neglected during this time. There are two questions which face the steel industry permanently. One is development policy and the other is price control. As for development, I do not think that any serious difficulties are likely to arise during the next few months, for the simple reason that the extensive development programme already in hand—and which was in hand a long time before the Corporation was set up—is likely to aborb all the capital resources available for it.
Steel prices are not fixed by the Corporation; they are fixed by the Government after consultation with the industry. This procedure will continue. In addition, however, there are special problems, apart from these permanent ones, which arise from the abnormal conditions of the day. The most critical of these questions is how to obtain more finished steel, more high grade iron ore and more scrap.
There is also the question of how to distribute available supplies of steel in the best interests of the national economy. The Corporation is not responsible for supplies. Since the war the Government have been helping industry to obtain supplies—I had to answer a Question about it only this afternoon. That help will continue.
As for distribution, it is, of course, not the function of the Corporation to distribute steel to industry. Where necessary, distribution must be regulated by an allocation system. The distribution of sheet steel and tin plate has been controlled for a long time. General steel and alloy steel were freed from control in the middle of 1950. However, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the House last June that, in view of the deterioration of the supply position, it would be necessary to re-impose control. A stop-gap priority system was introduced as the quickest way of dealing with the immediate situation. Subsequently, the late Government announced that they would introduce a full allocation scheme.
In the last week we have carefully reviewed the position and have decided that this allocation scheme, which had not yet come into operation, should go ahead and should include both general steel and alloy steel. The scheme will be similar to that which was in operation before. The necessary statutory order will be issued as soon as possible—in about a week or 10 days—and the scheme itself will take effect from 4th February, which I am advised is the earliest it can be brought into operation.
I have spoken so far about various specific aspects of this problem. I should like now to say a word about the broad objective which we hope to achieve through this Bill. We recognise fully that any scheme which may be adopted for the steel industry must, if it is to succeed, give confidence that it is going to be lasting. We have only got to nationalise, de-nationalise and re-nationalise an industry often enough, and there will be very little of it left. Somehow we have got to find a way of lifting steel out of the arena of political controversy. That is not going to be done by leaving the industry nationalised, any more than by making it completely independent.
Our aim is and must be to restore the benefits of free enterprise while at the same time providing full and effective safeguards for the national interest. We shall try our best to carry through this policy in a conciliatory and constructive spirit, and it is in this spirit that we invite all who have the well-being of this great industry at heart to help us all they can to bring about a fair, workable and lasting settlement.
I know, but I must raise a point with the Government about procedure. This Amendment refers to two industries, iron and steel and road haulage. The House is to spend a day debating the future of both of these industries, iron and steel and road haulage, and it really is putting the House in an impossible situation if the Government are not willing to outline their proposals about road haulage, at any rate, as much as they have done in relation to iron and steel—which was not too much.
It is impossible for the House to continue to debate effectively the road haulage industry unless it has an indication from the Government, at least broadly, if not in detail, of what their proposals are about the road haulage industry. Otherwise, we shall be in the situation that the speaker who will tell us what the Government propose to do will be actually the last speaker in the debate.
I want to ask, if not the Minister of Supply, who could have been briefed, then another Minister, if he wants to come in to tell us, for I am sure we shall give facilities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, we shall not object to another Minister's telling us. What I want to know, either from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, as this is for the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is whether the Government could make arrangements at this point to indicate what their proposals are with regard to the road haulage industry. We are to debate this industry as well as iron and steel, and it is only fair to the House of Commons that the Government should take that course.
I wish to raise a point of order with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I appreciate your difficulty. I have put a point to the Government which is relevant to the business of the day—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a point of order."] I put it that we cannot effectively go on with our work, and I want to ask whether you would give facilities to a member of the Government to tell us what their comment is upon the real dilemma which I put to the Government at this moment. I wonder if you would be good enough to allow the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House or the Home Secretary, who ever it may be, to give us some guidance on this point.
Further to that point of order. If it is not convenient for my right hon. Friend's question to be answered, may I put this to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Would it then be possible to divide the Amendment to the Address, which is now before the House, into two parts, one—[Interruption.] I am perfectly certain that if you hear the question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will be able to answer it without the assistance of these constant interruptions from the Front Bench.
The point I was putting to you was that since, apparently, the debate is to be conducted in two parts, would it not be possible to divide the business in some way so as to deal with steel in one part of the debate and road haulage in another part, so that the House will have the advantage of knowing what the Government's proposals are before we attempt to deal with them?
I was not quite sure whether it would be in order for me to intervene, but I am very glad—[Interruption.] I am not speaking to the Amendment. I am merely replying, as a matter of courtesy, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I think that possibly the difficulty in which he finds himself arises from the fact that the Amendment does deal with two different subjects.
I think it is quite reasonable that the Government should be allowed to conduct their side of the debate as they choose for the better convenience of all hon. Members, bearing in mind the constant desire that debates should not be overloaded by long speeches by too many Members of the Front Bench. It is for that reason that we hope that the debate can proceed, as, I am sure, it will—and, of course, more speeches will be made the fewer the interruptions that take place. I must say that I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply had a very hard hearing from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I should hope, therefore, that the debate could proceed, and the Government's case will be stated in due course.
In the circumstances—these, I submit, quite intolerable circumstances, and since I can take no other course—I beg to move, "That the debate be now adjourned."
Of course, if I succeed it will be inevitable that the Government give another day for the debate on the Address so that this debate may effectively proceed. The point is a perfectly simple one. We have on the Order Paper an Amendment to the Address which deals with one subject affecting two industries. The one subject is the process of denationalisation. It is true that it affects two industries, the iron and steel industry and the road haulage industry. There could have been nothing easier than for the Government to have arranged for their opening spokesman to have delivered a brief from the other Minister.
This is a point that tells against me a little bit, because I asked earlier why the Home Secretary was going to answer about road haulage instead of the Minister of Transport. If that is so, if the Home Secretary is to answer on something that is not Home Office business, why could not the Minister of Supply have been briefed to make a statement on behalf of the Ministry of Transport on what was to be done about road haulage? Why, they could even have thrust in the President of the Board of Trade, who used to deal with these matters in Opposition.
I submit to the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, who has a love for the House of Commons, as we all know, who has been in this House a long time—much longer than I have—and who has a love for this institution, that this is really intolerable. When the Government have announced, in the Gracious Speech, that they are going to do one thing, namely, de-nationalise certain industries, and that there are two industries concerned, then it is legitimate for the Opposition to challenge that intention as declared in the Gracious Speech.
If that is so, after my right hon. Friend has opened the debate and dealt with both subjects, it is surely right, reasonable and proper, and a matter of elementary fairness to the House of Commons itself, that the Government should put before us their broad proposals on both these matters in as much detail as they can. Otherwise, what is the situation? We are debating road haulage in the void; we do not know what the Government propose; and then, right at the end, the last speaker in the debate will be the first Government spokesman to tell us what it is all about. Now I put it to the Prime Minister that that is not treating the House of Commons fairly; it is not right; and I therefore think it is wrong that this debate should go on in those circumstances. It is for those reasons, in elementary and fair defence of the rights of the House of Commons, that we should be told what the road haulage proposal is. Otherwise, we shall press this Motion to a Division and ask that the debate be adjourned.
Yes, I called the hon. Gentleman and I shall call him again in a moment after I have given my Ruling of the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I decline, under Standing Order No. 26, to accept that Motion. Mr. Robson Brown.
I called the hon. Gentleman's name and I was waiting for him to speak, but he sat down and I therefore called the only other hon. Gentleman standing, namely, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown).
I was not aware that any point of order had arisen at that moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] No point of order was put to me when I called the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), but he resumed his seat, so I looked round the House and only one hon. Gentleman was standing, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), and I called him.
On a point of order. Standing Order No. 26 provides that there is discretion in the Chair to refuse such a Motion if in the opinion of the Chair it
is an abuse of the rules of the House"—
I cannot see that it is—or the Chair
may decline to propose the question"—
which is, of course, a perfectly open discretion on the part of the Chair—without any indication of the purpose, as there would be if it were because, in the opinion of the Chair, it was an abuse of the Rules of the House. I venture to ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with great respect, in view of the case I made, under which of these provisions you are declining to accept the Motion I propose?
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), was called and had started to speak when my right hon. Friend was called, with your permission, and allowed to interrupt the speech of my hon. Friend, who then sat down as a matter of courtesy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps I might be permitted, in ordinary courtesy, to put a point of order to the Chair. My hon. Friend had to sit down when you rose and allowed my right hon. Friend to interrupt. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman was interrupting the speech of my hon. Friend, which was already in progress, with your permission and under your Ruling. My hon. Friend had the Floor subject to that interruption at your discretion.
Had a point of order been raised, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, I should have asked the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) to sit down while I heard it, but that was not what happened. Somebody shouted "Sit down" and everybody sat down except one hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), whom I am now calling.
Perhaps I might ask the indulgence of the House to reply to the point made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). Of course, an Opposition puts down an Amendment with a number of criticisms, and it is undoubtedly open to the Opposition to complain if any one of those criticisms, or of the points raised for discussion, is not fully or properly or timeously dealt with. That is perfectly right, and everyone must judge for himself when it comes to going into the Division Lobbies. [Interruption.] Do try to begin to have a little courtesy. I say, quite frankly, that I have hardly ever seen this sort of thing before.
I was about to say that I think it is perhaps rather difficult for the road hauliers' matter to be first spoken upon by the Government at the end of the debate. We have no reason to shirk the discussion. On the contrary, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply made a very full speech on steel, and I think that if he had had to make another one on the hauliers' question it would have been very difficult. On the other hand, I see that the Opposition would like to know exactly what the haulage proposals are some time before the Division is likely to be called, and I have asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary whether he will make the speech which he was going to make in winding up before dinner instead of at the end of the debate. We may then find some other Member, either from the Front or the back benches, to make the terminal flourishes which a debate of this importance requires. If that is agreeable, it is a procedure which we will adopt.
If I may say so, I thought that I would get some response because of the right hon. Gentleman's long association with the House. I appreciate the proposition he has in mind, which I think in all the circumstances gets us out of the difficulty, which I think is a fair one, and which on the part of the Opposition I accept.
While the right hon. Gentleman is in this conciliatory mood, may I suggest that he uses some of his influence with his supporters, to see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary at least gets a reasonably uninterrupted hearing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—on the complicated topics with which he has to deal?
I think that it is desirable that the debate should go on with a certain amount of liveliness, but without too much noise, and I hope that all of us on this side, in this Parliament, will not follow the not-too-good example of the Opposition in the last Parliament.
Further to the point of order which has just been raised, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, my hon. Friend sat down to allow my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), with your consent, to speak, just as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) stood up in the middle of the speech of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown). I am perfectly certain that you will see that justice will be done in calling on the hon. Members in the same order as you originally intended before they both sat down to give way to my right hon. Friend.
I hope with your permission and support, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I can now make my speech. I have had 30 years' experience of the steel trade and never has it taken me as long to start a speech on steel as it has done in the House of Commons this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), in the course of his speech, asked what were the principles that are influencing us now in our approach to the de-nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. I think that it can be put in one sentence: We believe that the industry requires dynamic leadership, the thing which it has lacked very sadly during the short time it has been nationalised.
This debate is the logical outcome and continuance of previous debates on this subject in the last Parliament. We then strongly and rightly urged the Government of the day not to proceed because of the divided views in the country and the possibility of an early Election with the wholesale nationalisation of steel, but, instead, to consider with us the drafting of a workable plan for the steel industry. I say to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that the principle which actuates my right hon. Friends on this side of the House is that we wish to see a plan for the steel industry which will preserve the best in competitive management working under a well-devised central authority, and this central authority must be responsible to this House.
It has been and it will be our continuing purpose and intention to remove the steel industry from the political party cockpit, and we hope on this occasion it will be once and for all. Between us, somehow or another, we shall have to hammer out, in the end, a workable and practicable plan for the steel industry. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply said, we cannot nationalise, de-nationalise and nationalise again. We are dealing with one of the greatest industries in the country, and probably with the one which, above all others, in defence and peace will give us security and prosperity.
I hope that hon. Members who follow me in this debate will make their criticisms and contributions to it not for party benefit but for the benefit and betterment of a great industry and the country as a whole. I have no special information or knowledge with regard to the Government's proposals on this matter, but I hope, with the indulgence of the House, to put forward what I consider to be some progressive proposals, because it is about time that in this industry we had some progressive proposals rather than this negative, retrogressive act of nationalisation. I submit that there are three important fundamental problems which require our consideration and to which we must find a workable solution.
The first is the future ownership or the financial ownership of the industry. The second, equally important is the method of control, and the third is the future of the industry. First, the financial ownership. I believe—and I speak only for myself—that joint stockholding by the State and the public could be made to work out as a sound and practical arrangement for the industry. I also earnestly recommend the idea that whatever financial plans or proposals we have for the industry, we support strongly the provision of special workers shares for the men and staff working in the industry. I believe that joint ownership on a proper basis would give financial stability to the industry and freedom for rapid expansion. That expansion, I believe, is a thing which the industry greatly needs.
Thus we could have the benefits of a central authority without the liabilities of nationalisation and, at the same time, let the strong and keen winds of competition blow through the industry without any dangers of restriction, combination, and complacency. I believe that we have an opportunity in this Parliament of finding a workable method between us, outside party politics, so that this great industry can carry on its work in the interests of the State.
On the question on control, if we are to be realistic we all know that it does not matter who holds the shares: it is who controls the policy that matters. We must not forget that this is a national industry, and it must be managed effectively in the national interest. That is one rock upon which I firmly stand. Management must be allowed to manage, they must be free to handle their companies affairs and their staff without restriction, subject, of course, always to the broad policy of the Board. The staff and the men in the plants have to look up to the management as managers and not as delegates of some higher authority.
The hon. Gentleman will see the distinction as I go along.
I believe that in this matter the management should have no interference and should be allowed free and proper scope for their negotiations and in their dealings with the trade unions of the industry. I make that perfectly clear because, to my mind, it is absolutely fundamental, and I believe that in this I would have the trade union movement with me. The management are asked to accept grave and great responsibilities, and, therefore, they should at all times have freedom to operate and exercise their judgment.
These blunt remarks really should not be necessary, but I believe that recently the tendency has been in the reverse direction, with the grave danger that firms would lose their individuality, and that is one of the reasons why we feel we should take the steps outlined today. Like any army general, the industrial leader must have freedom to manoeuvre, full power and discretion, in the day to day affairs of his company, and the confidence of those who appoint him. The industry has a great array of talent of all levels, and one thing which I, personally, and the men in the industry and in management as well feel, is that promotion should be possible from all ranks up to the highest levels of the industry.
I want to say one word about coordination. The British Iron and Steel Federation has, over a period of years and particularly over the war years, built up an exceptionally efficient co-ordination of all the many sections of the industry. It would be a great tragedy, and we would be most unwise in this House, if we were to seek in any way to disturb that excellent and useful machine which, to some extent, criticised by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. What we want to avoid in the steel industry is the necessity of creating any kind of Hobart House for steel such as had to be done for coal.
I come next to the question of the control of the industry. I am firmly of the opinion that control should rest with the representatives of the State on the Floor of this House through a proper and qualified steel board and the management to manage, the federation to co-ordinate but the board to control the industry; and it should have direct and absolute responsibility at all times to this House. There are a lot of things we have to learn about the handling of the nationalised industries, and the sooner we begin the better. Surely we can approach this problem objectively, and if we do not the industries may suffer. We might start with the steel industry and pioneer a new way for the other nationalised industries.
I should like to see the steel industry represented on the Front Bench by an appropriate Minister of State, not tacked onto another Ministry. I should also like to feel that there was ample Parliamentary time for debate about the steel industry, a thing which I have not found has been sufficiently considered in relation to coal.
May I say a few words about the composition of the new board which we shall have to establish? It ought to be a small board of big men in every sense of the word. The trade unions should be powerfully represented. Without them on the board I believe it would be gravely weakened. Let us get away from the idea of an independent chairman and of part-time members. There are no part-time problems in steel. Whatever men are appointed they will have problems for 24 hours and seven days of the week in front of them.
We ought to have a chairman who knows the industry and could take immediate action. He should not have to grope his way through the ordinary fundamental elementals of the industry. He should be one who understands the industry and can grasp the steel problems at once. We want a courageous leader with a dynamic personality, the kind of personality which was suggested from the Front Bench this afternoon. He should be a man not afraid of action and the criticism that sometimes goes with it.
I should like to make another novel suggestion. We should give careful consideration to the appointment of unpaid members of this House on such a board, one member from each side. It is something we should bear in mind and consider, because I believe it is time Parliament got closer to the industry and the industry got closer to Parliament. I do not think that sufficient is known on the Floor of the House on these matters.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) has answered for the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers).
The new board should have three functions; to direct policy; to demand efficiency; and to make English steel second to none in the world. Of the three the third is the greatest. It requires a five- to 10-year programme and it also requires a spring cleaning of old and obsolete plants and companies. The Opposition, when they were the Government, did a certain amount of reshuffling. Let us take advantage of the opportunity given to us now to tidy up the industry. There is an urgent need for us to consolidate and get our proper share of the raw materials of the world that are required for steel. This is a matter for international negotiation, and I am not happy about the way it has been developed.
If I may, I should like to refer to a document called "The United Nations Department of Economic Affairs, Steel Division, Economic Commission for Europe,"published in Geneva in 1949. On page 20 there is a pregnant paragraph, and I hope hon. Members will listen carefully to it. It is as follows:—
The assumption that Europe will regain its pre-war position of 80 per cent. in the extra-European markets is very optimistic indeed, and the post-war export policy of American steel producers would seem to justify doubts in this respect.
The Minister of Supply this afternoon pointed out that the United States steel production has gone up from the pre-war figure of 47 million to a figure passing 100 million tons. The output of steel in the United States is equal to the whole of the output of steel of the rest of the world put together, and their programme for expansion at this moment represents something of the order of 10 million tons. That has been financed by the United States Government on five-year special depreciation terms.
The expansion of steel in the other countries is equally dramatic. I was astonished to see that the figures for Japan estimate a higher production than prewar. There is the writing on the wall. Let me give the House another set of figures, which demand close attention. France and Belgium have both doubled their 1938 production of export tonnage of steel.
We cannot stand still, but I am afraid that uncertainty is slowing up the industry. We want more coking coal, more coke ovens, more iron ore and scrap, more blast furnaces, more steel furnaces, more concentration of re-rolling plant, and most especially more strip mill capacity.
Yes, more labour, and this is the kind of industry which can attract it. Great strides have already been made in the five years since the war, but greater strides have to be made. It is to the expansion of the steel industry that more than any other industry we should look for the extension and expansion of our export trade.
I would leave another thought with the House. If we can increase our steel production by one million tons we could make it possible to export another £50 million worth of goods per annum made out of the products of steel. That is a very conservative estimate. We want a big expanding programme. We have got to capture—I should use the word "recapture"—and expand our overseas markets, because in the five years gone by our deliveries in many cases have been merely token deliveries, and while we have concentrated on our re-armament other countries are taking over our markets in other lands. We cannot be left behind.
Some time or other we shall have to go to an international round table to discuss international steel. I may be considered aggressive, but I want to feel that when we sit round that table we will not be there begging for a share of the world's trade, but we shall be there by right because of the quality, the price and the performance of our products.
My final words on this matter are these. Leave steel alone and let it breathe freely again. End, once and for all, the six years of anxiety and uncertainty which the nationalisation of steel has imposed upon the industry and let us get on with the job in the interests of steel and of the nation.
One result of the rather exciting prelude to the speech made by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) is that I did have the pleasure of listening to him before making my speech. I commend that speech to the Minister of Supply for him to note that from a practical steel man the emphasis is on public control and not on private ownership, which is very different from the kind of nonsense we hear talked from the benches opposite by people who have no knowledge of the steel industry.
I should like to extend to the Minister of Supply the courtesy, which is traditional in regard to those who speak for the first time at the Government Despatch Box, of saying that we congratulate him on his appointment. While we shall attack him very hard in the days to come, we shall do so not in his personal capacity but in his official capacity as Minister of Supply. I should not like this occasion to pass without making that reference.
I have a very great sympathy with the Government in their desire to denationalise steel and road haulage. In the last week we have seen the election manifesto of hon. Gentlemen opposite torn to shreds and forcibly masticated by their own Front Bench spokesmen. We must therefore feel sympathy for them in their desire to cling to the remaining tattered shreds which are the subject of this Amendment. We are accustomed to seeing Conservative Party election manifestos repudiated in the course of time. I remember that the late Earl Baldwin even repudiated his own election address 12 months after it was issued.
But is it not without precedent to have the Prime Minister coming, on the first day of a new Parliament and, to use a metaphorical expression, taking down his trousers and asking the electors to chastise him for having obtained his seat under false pretences, and, at the same time, as saying that we have a situation of national emergency, announcing the closing down of Parliament. We do sympathise with hon. Gentlemen opposite in their desire to fulfil these remaining parts of their programme, but I appeal to the Government and to hon. Gentlemen opposite to drop voluntarily all talk of steel de-nationalisation and road haulage de-nationalisation, so that we can really believe that at last they are facing the realities of our economic situation.
I have the honour to sit for a constituency in the great steel city of Sheffield which is more linked up with the future of this industry than any other city. It has played a greater part than any other city in our reconstruction, and will now have to play its part in re-armament, if the programme is to be fulfilled. I should like to query the remarks made earlier in this debate by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). He said that steel was not an election issue in Sheffield. I say categorically that we have no need to make steel an election issue in Sheffield. It is a bread-and-butter issue. It is part of the daily lives, directly or indirectly, of my constituents. Since the Labour Government nationalised steel, anyone who voted Labour endorsed the nationalisation of steel. There was no need for us to make a song and dance about it. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), on a previous occasion complimented us on the way we had done our job in Sheffield in putting the case for nationalisation.
If the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), will read in HANSARD the steel debate which took place in the emergency Session of Parliament a year ago, he will see what he said. He did not rise in his place but he shouted out, as is so often his custom: "You have done the job too well."
Anyone who voted Labour, clearly voted knowing that we nationalised steel and did not intend to de-nationalise it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot say the same about everyone who voted Conservative. They may have voted in the mistaken belief—as they now know it was—that the Conservatives would bring down the cost of living or provide more food, or more houses. The hon. Member for Heeley plastered the walls of his constituency with posters, not about steel, but about the cost of living and "Socialist mismanagement." He comes here to support a Government that puts on more Socialist controls than ever we did.
I am sorry to keep on interrupting, but the hon. Member keeps on referring to me. I hope he realises that the troubles we are facing now are due to Socialist mismanagement.
I ask the hon. Member to read the speech of his own Chancellor of the Exchequer, which will put his knowledge of the economic situation into clearer perspective.
I want to get this point cleared up, because it will be used time and time again in this debate, about the attitude in the steel constituencies to nationalisation. In 25 public meetings I never had a question on the steel nationalisation issue. I had questions relating to gas, electricity, coal and railways. As a matter of fact, at my meetings I might just as well have talked about Magna Charta as about the Act of Parliament nationalising steel which had gone through. If I had known that Parliament was going to be closed down as one of the first acts of the new Government I think Magna Charta might well have been a relevant issue.
Our election addresses in Sheffield have been fulfilled to a very great extent. We concentrated not upon the past but on looking to the future and showing the electors that the Conservative Party's economic policy could never be fulfilled. I think I did it sufficiently well, because I secured an increased majority. My contention is that those who voted Labour voted for steel nationalisation and were a greater number in the country than the people voting for hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I do not for a moment accept the constitutional doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister in the recent steel debate. I prefer the old fashioned doctrine that a new Government should not concentrate their energy upon trying to undo the good enacted by a previous Government. The Prime Minister laid it down that it was not right for us to implement the existing Iron and Steel Act, because we had a majority only in this House and not a majority in the country. Surely, in the name of consistency, how can hon. Gentlemen opposite, in a similar set of circumstances, take the much more drastic step of annulling an Act of Parliament? In the last Parliament we only implemented an Act which had been passed in the previous Parliament.
What is the real position with regard to steel? The country is facing a very severe balance-of-payments problem. If we are to surmount that difficulty, the steel and engineering industries have to make enormous contributions to our exports. At the same time, our economy is heavily saddled with re-armament. Again, the steel industry has to make an enormous contribution if re-armament is to be fulfilled. Yet this moment is chosen by the Government to perpetrate a partisan, doctrinaire act of dogmatism which will not add one ton to the production of steel. On the other hand, it may well destroy thousands of tons of production that would otherwise be forthcoming.
There is no question at all that great damage and disturbance will be caused—this is the fundamental point—simply because it will cause great dissatisfaction among the workers. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are concerned about the future of the steel industry, why do they not cause a ballot to be held among steel workers? They can give university graduates two votes in that ballot if they like and I shall still be prepared to gamble that there will be a majority of ten to one in favour of steel nationalisation, not as a matter of theory but as a result of what has been observed in practice.
The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) casts a little doubt on that. I was very interested to read in the "Sheffield Telegraph"—which is a Kemsley newspaper—on Wednesday, 7th November, that the "Sheffield Telegraph" sent out a reporter and a photographer to interview steel workers in Sheffield, and the Kemsley newspaper was able to find, among the nine people whose interviews they reported, only two who were against nationalisation, the other seven being for it. Hon. Members representing Sheffield ought to know that. If they are in any doubt they ought to go to the work gates any day of the week and check it for themselves.
What is the real issue? The speech of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) brought this out very sharply: The real issue between us is not the public control or the organisation of the industry but the ownership of the industry. That has been admitted in speeches by the Prime Minister and other hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member must not put into my mouth words which I never used. Far from what he has said, I believe that the control of the industry is the important part, and if the hon. Member will read my speech he will see that I am quite specific about it. What the House and the country must be satisfied about is that the control of the industry is in the hands of men who can manage the industry effectively, knowing and understanding it.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for correcting what may have been a misapprehension. I had no intention of quoting him on that point. I was impressed by his very strong insistance on the need for public control of the steel industry. We may not agree on the details, but I am arguing that the fundamental difference of principle between us is not on the need for public control but on the narrow issue of the ownership of the industry.
It boils down to this question. At this time when there is, unfortunately, a need for re-armament, shall the profits from re-armament go into public funds or private pockets? That is the narrow issue that we are debating today. Hon. Members opposite ought to consider that point before they go into the Lobby tonight. The Opposition are, I am sure, prepared to allow modifications of the control or management of the nationalised industry to be made without fierce opposition, but they are not prepared to see profits going back into private pockets instead of into public funds.
The hon. Member is bringing up debating points, and he now raises the question of profits upon re-armament being made by the steel industry. Surely he knows perfectly well that any responsible over-riding authority of the steel industry would never allow the selling price to be fixed at a figure which would yield to the industry profits which were too high? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If hon. Members believe that, then they will believe anything. My belief is that basic industries everywhere have a responsibility to the State with regard to profits and that applies to steel.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for making that point, but what he forgets—the Opposition must remind him of it—is that we have been told absolutely nothing of what is to be put in the place of the present Iron and Steel Corporation. If there is a body of the kind which the hon. Member for Esher envisaged in his speech, that will make it a different matter, but the speech of the Minister of Supply gave us no indication. If the Minister of Supply can tell the House categorically that he will not put forward a scheme for the steel industry which does not have the backing of the trade unions concerned and the T.U.C., the Opposition will feel very much happier in their minds about the future of the industry when the Act comes into force.
The only point at issue in the debate is what will happen to the profits. The workers in the steel industry—hon. Members should make no mistake about this— are very much interested in what happens to profits, and to put back the old structure on the steel industry today will, to say the least of it, create very difficult and tense industrial relations.
A point of significance which has not been raised in the discussion is that the coal industry and the steel industry, often physically, and certainly in their community of interests, are very closely related. The only chance we have of overcoming our coal problems is through the efforts of the mineworkers. The mineworkers have very great apprehensions about the future of the National Coal Board and the structure of their nationalised industry, and they will be watching with very great care how the steel workers and the steel industry are treated by the Conservative Government. If right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench want to get more coal and satisfy the mineworkers, they can do it extremely well by denying any intentions of reversing the Iron and Steel Act.
My last point concerns the financial arrangements for the unscrambling of nationalisation. We do not know how it would be done. I agree that it is a little early yet to expect full details, but it has already been canvassed in the financial Press that the underwriting involved will be a gift to the City of about £10 million. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite who are sincere in their statements about the need to economise national funds to measure up the puny reductions in Ministers' salaries and use of cars against the gift, however they do the unscrambling, that this will ensure to the City.
The only justification I can see for that is that it may be the price that we have to pay—in which case if we are told that we shall treat it with more sympathy—for having the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) at the Exchequer instead of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). If the price is that the City shall have the enormous underwriting profits resulting from the issue of shares, we ought to be told that that is what it is; but if the new Government really want to give a signal to the nation, as they so often say, and if they want to set fire to a beacon to show that they are really concerned about serving the nation, they can do it in no better way than by making a clear statement that they do not intend to proceed with the denationalisation of the steel and road transport industries.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), drew attention to the interest which workers in the mining industry might be taking in the outcome of the developments in regard to the steel industry. I was interested that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) recommended that steps should be taken to de-centralise control of the steel industry about two days after we had been told of the suspicion in the mining industry about the self-same course which we have recommended to the mining industry.
I think the hon. Member will agree that when the former Minister spoke, there were two points—that the steel industry might be in one section de-centralised and in the other put into a more homogenous structure. The question in regard to the coal industry is of breaking it up into geographical districts, which are quite different from functional districts.
I am not going to be led into detailed discussion on these points. But there is no doubt about it that the advice we have had to resist de-centralising of coal while recommending the de-centralising of steel is just irreconcilable.
It was primarily the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite with whom I was finding fault. In studying the Amendment with which we are dealing this afternoon, I was interested to find that it is very different in its context from some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite when this subject was debated in the House earlier. One of the reasons advanced when nationalisation was put forward was the imminence of re-armament and the great assistance which the policy of nationalisation would be to an efficient re-armament programme. It is surprising, therefore, that in this Amendment no mention is made of the re-armament situation.
Of course, the reason for the Amendment is not far to seek because, far from controlling the whole of the industry, which has been the burden of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, the present form taken by nationalisation does not control the whole industry at all. It merely controls the policy of a certain number of companies in the industry, and in fact those sections of the industry primarily concerned with rearmament are by no means controlled by the Corporation, which owns the shares of 80 companies and their subsidiaries. We have only to look at such sections as alloy steels, castings, drop forgings, tool steels and light bars to see what an insignificant proportion of the output is controlled by the organisation who owns the shares under nationalisation.
Not entirely. It is not the slightest use merely providing raw materials from companies owned by the Corporation if they are incapable of exercising any influence on what is done with that steel when it is delivered. There is no doubt that cutting the industry into two separate divisions by the form nationalisation has taken has completely nullified the claims which hon. Members opposite have made for the policy of nationalisation.
On former occasions I have disclosed my interest in this industry and, on technical grounds, I am only too ready to do so again, but I ask hon. Members to accept from me that it will not make the slightest difference what form unscrambling of this industry takes as far as I personally am concerned, because I am not in a position to go back anyway.
It has been suggested that no great harm has been done by those who have controlled the shares that were bought out under nationalisation. Is that really the best that hon. Members opposite can claim; that no harm has been done by nationalisation? In point of fact, considerable harm has been done. The companies have had an immense amount of trouble and worry as a result of the instructions from the Corporation acting —maybe quite properly—as a holding company for the shares, as trustees for the public.
The changing of their accounting periods, the dismissal of individual directors and the provision of monthly balance sheets will not help in the slightest to increase production or increase efficiency. I ask the Minister of Supply to collect copies of the information which the Corporation have asked to be provided by the companies under their control and to consider whether a very large part of that information could not be cut out forthwith, to the great relief of the companies concerned in the matter.
It is not merely what has happened so far that is important, but the very development to which the right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate referred, namely, re-grouping by regions, which suggests the setting aside of the undertaking to preserve the identity and goodwill of the companies in the industry. These will be completely changed as a result of these proposals which are envisaged.
I want to concern myself principally with the changes which will follow from the Government's decision on this matter. There are two main features of the situation—methods by which the policy of the industry shall be controlled and methods by which the financial consequences of de-nationalising will be given effect to. These two matters, general policy and financial unscrambling, require different treatment, different personalities and a different rate of progress for their application, and I hope that the Government will see fit to establish two quite distinct bodies for the fulfilment of these two quite distinct functions.
The first, dealing with policy, will be the board which has been referred to in the party's manifesto and again referred to today, in which I hope the trade unions will play a prominent part. It is not necessary—I would go so far to say it is most undesirable—for that board to be possessed of the ownership of the shares, so there will need to be a second instrument of Government policy which may well be the existing Corporation, I hope with new directors in charge of it. Their task will not be an easy one, but no harm will result if the discharge of that financial function takes quite a considerable time.
In the first instance, there will be many shareholders not in a position to buy back the shares taken from them, even if they want, because their resources will have been deployed in ways which preclude them from doing so. There will be other cases where plants are known to have no future as a result of technical development of the strip mills and comparable plant and it would be quite wrong for the Corporation to try and sell them back to the original shareholders at the take-over price.
There were plants which were compulsorily acquired by the Corporation which have saved the shareholders of those companies from an inevitable loss of part of their capital. It would be quite wrong for those plants to be sold back at the take-over price when it is known perfectly well that there is no long-term future for those plants. So that is another consideration that will have to be taken into account.
I hope that those who are willing to come back into the industry will have to pay for the shares that they will thus acquire a price which will enable the Corporation to write off the losses which no one else—[Interruption]—oh, yes, they will have to incur losses in winding up certain of the plants which are known to have no future and which should have already been closed. I hope, therefore, that the opportunity will be taken of pressing on with that policy before the re-sale is ultimately concluded.
There is a further point which I hope the Government will bear in mind. The industry will require substantial sums of additional capital, and it would be quite wrong to press on with the re-sale of the industry back to private enterprise so fast and under such pressure as would decrease the resources of fresh capital which the industry will require. In so far as it is a spontaneous movement on the part of the public, well and good, but I should regret it if there were organised movement on the part of the institutions which would have the effect of depleting the sources from which further capital will ultimately be needed by the industry.
So I hope that the Government will keep quite separate and distinct the policy of running the industry and the consequences of the decision to sell back the shares to private enterprise. If that is done, I think there will be a great opportunity for the Government to establish a lasting and proper balance between the strategic control of policy and of development, on the one hand, and the tactical operation of production and marketing by those experienced in the trade.
If the ordinary shareholder will not come forward with sufficient money to buy back the shares, and if the hon. Member does not want the institutions to do so, will he say where the money is coming from to buy the shares?
That is an entirely hypothetical question. If the Corporation is charged with the duty of unloading the shares at fair and reasonable prices, and if the public is not willing to buy back, I should not complain if there were a residue left with the Corporation, but that is not a matter which requires to be considered other than as a result of the normal process of commercial supply and demand. I trust no pressure will be put on to speed up the discharge of the Corporation's financial functions even if, as a result, these take a year or so to conclude.
If there is put into operation the procedure suggested and outlined of assets now in the hands of the Iron and Steel Corporation being unloaded, as the hon. Member has termed it, on to the private market, and it is found that, after that unloading has taken place to a certain extent a certain amount of what remains in the hands of the Iron and Steel Corporation cannot find an effective market, who will carry that redundant amount? Who is to foot the bill for the losses?
There is no question of footing the bill for the loss incurred; no loss is incurred. The hon. Member is asking what will happen to those shares now in possession of the Corporation which the public are unwilling to come forward and buy at the price asked.
I am speaking not of the shares but of the real physical assets which those shares represent, namely, the various sections of the iron and steel industry which are functioning.
It is no use the hon. Member saying that he is talking about assets and not about shares because it is shares which the Corporation owns—shares represented by assets, of course—and which were transferred when the industry was nationalised, and it will be shares which will be transferred back when the Act is annulled and a fresh Act put in its place.
I hope that the Government will see fit to create two instruments for their policy. Only thus do I think they can succeed in their task.
I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) will excuse me if I now try for the time being to switch this Debate to the second part of the Amendment relating to the de-nationalisation of the road haulage industry. I shall try to make a reasonable statement of the position, as I see it, in relation to that industry.
No hon. Member in any part of the House will dispute the fact that transport, whether it be by road or rail, is vital not only to national defence but to the industrial life and prosperity of the nation. Its growth both in terms of man-power and in vehicles is an important factor which we have to consider.
The commercial and road passenger transport fleets of this country have been steadily expanding since the war. In 1945, the commercial fleet numbered 446,879 vehicles, and in 1949 the privately-owned commercial fleet—A, B, and C licences—had increased to 801,761 vehicles. If one adds the British Transport fleet of 48,300 the expansion over the first five years has been from 446,879 to 850,061 vehicles.
The figures show the vast increase in the use of man-power and materials which must be given serious attention in face of the alarming shortage of labour in essential industries. We should look at the serious man-power problem—
When the hon. Member intervened, I was speaking of the serious man-power problem. No one could have stated it more clearly than the new Minister of Labour. Speaking at a conference on training called by the British Employers' Confederation, the new Minister of Labour said that there were:
at least 400,000 vacancies which the exchanges were not able to fill. Industry was also suffering from a 13.5 per cent. cut in its yearly intake of starters. Aircraft factories and Royal Ordnance Factories alone would need to increase their labour force by about 175,000.
Then, speaking on the question of the proper balance of labour, the Minister continued:
Our labour force just will not meet all the demands upon it, so the question is how to obtain a proper balance between the labour supply for the least essential jobs and for those which must be given priority, both from the point of view of the defence programme and the economy of the country.
What are the salient points which the Minister brought out in that speech? He pointed out that there were 400,000 jobs vacant at the various employment exchanges. There was a 13.5 per cent. cut in the yearly intake of starters. Factories engaged on re-armament needed to increase their labour force by about 175,000 personnel.
Then he dealt with the need for a proper balance of labour. I ask the Home Secretary to give a reply to this question: Do the Government feel that a contribution from transport should be made to the common pool of labour as required for defence work? My own view is that road haulage can, and should, make a contribution in this field. But we cannot achieve this—indeed it will be made less possible—if the Government carry into effect the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech relating to the haulage section.
What the Government should do in connection with transport generally is to concentrate upon the great unification of the industry. The urgent need today is not for more men or vehicles in the road haulage section, but the provision of more workers and rolling stock for the railways so that they can carry increased
traffic and not only reduce the congestion on the roads, but free labour and materials for other essential work. In other words, if we are to make the best economic use of the transport system, we must have less so-called private enterprise and more concentration upon unification. The Government's proposals, so far as we have been able to ascertain, mean a return to the competition, overlapping and waste of the pre-war years. As a Royal Commission on the Coordination and Development of Transport pointed out in 1930:
Nationalisation of the railways alone would certainly not produce any real coordination of transport.
If I may refer to the "Economist," which was referred to by my right hon. Friend in opening this debate, that journal remarked on 15th October, 1946:
To regard transport as a whole appears so evident today that past resistance to this principle is the more surprising. It is obvious that this principle of regarding transport as a whole and the technical integration which followed it can only he achieved by some form of unification of ownership.
And it is clear from the third Annual Report of the British Transport Commission that considerable progress has been made both in the co-ordination and unification of the various activities of the railway, road haulage, dock and waterways undertakings.
I ask the question in all seriousness—are the Government really serious in their proposals to retard progress in this field? Is the work of the Transport Commission to be thrown to the winds at the behest of private profit seekers, with a total disregard for the present needs of the nation? Really, it is fantastic for the Government to contemplate increasing the radius of private haulage, with its inevitable and immediate increased demand on the labour market, at a time when the Ministry of Labour are seeking to get a better balance of labour as between the essential industries.
The plans which the Road Haulage Association have submitted to the Government for the disposal of the publicly-owned vehicles, and set out by Mr. Frank Fowler, are wicked and objectionable from every standard of public decency; and suggest a type of malpractice which I trust no British Government will sink so low as to apply. The Association suggest that the 25-mile limit on private lorries be abolished at once, even without the repayment of the compensation which was received from the State. This would mean that undertakings which at present operate within the 25-mile radius would have a free gift of goodwill at the expense of the nation; and even undertakings which have never operated beyond the 25-mile limit would enjoy the same free gift of goodwill from the Government. I suggest that if that is true it is certainly a policy which is contrary to the best interests of the nation.
As to the proposals of the Association for the disposal of road transport vehicles owned by the Commission, I think we can dismiss them with the contempt they deserve. No one in his right senses wishes to return to the days after the end of the First World War, when thousands of ex-Army lorries were placed on the market. They were bought by ex-Service men with their gratuities, and these men were subject to no control of working conditions or charges. Some did well, others went to the wall. But the railways were brought, by the lack of transport and this unfair competition, to a position of real financial difficulty.
We remember the railway companies appealing to the Government and to the nation for a square deal, but they failed to get the measure of support they were entitled to expect. I say that this cutthroat competition did more than anything else to prevent for many years, not only the proper co-ordination and development of the transport industry, but the provision of fair wages and conditions for the workers employed in the industry. Organised labour in the transport industry—and I speak from a long association with them—will resist any attempt, either by the Government or by anyone else, to lower their well-earned improved standards and conditions of employment.
The Minister of Labour—and I make this point very clearly to the Government —will require all the good will and cooperation he can get from the trade union movement to meet all the labour problems which concern the Government today. The proposals to hand back steel and road haulage to private profit makers will not impress organised labour or encourage sacrifices on their part. The Government cannot get away with a policy of private profits for their friends and sacrifices for the workers. They must set a better example—a wiser example—of government than that. They must set an example which will encourage the workers to co-operate with the Government in order to get over the difficult times which confront us.
There can be no doubt in any part of the House that in every crisis, whether it has been one of war or of industrial difficulty, the workers have never failed to respond to appeals for loyalty and devotion to the causes which every decent citizen ought to have at heart. The Government have no right at this juncture, with the financial difficulties of the nation, to contemplate passing either steel or transport to private profit makers when undoubtedly the Government intend to ask the workers to make even further sacrifices to enable the country to get through this difficult period.
Nothing has been put forward by the Minister of Supply or by any other hon. Member opposite which has conveyed the impression that either the de-nationalisation of steel or of road haulage is connected with the greater efficiency of the industry. That point has not been made at all. The Government know perfectly well that if they interfere with the present set-up of transport—[HON. MEMBERS: "Mess up."]—it is not a mess up—if they interfere with the present set-up of transport they will be involved in very difficult labour and material problems.
They cannot go to their friends who are operating at a 25-mile radius and say, "All right, we will wipe away the limitation altogether. You can go up to 100 miles if you like." What would be the consequence of that? The result would be that a man would go 100 miles instead of 25, but he would want more vehicles and staff in order to run the extended mileage. Anyone who has had any connection at all with the transport industry knows perfectly well that the longer the mileage of a service is extended, the greater is the number of vehicles needed and the number of persons employed in the industry.
I want the Home Secretary to appreciate that he will be encouraging a policy of increasing the number of personnel in the transport industry. Not only that, but he will be encouraging the use of more material at a time when the nation really needs to conserve its labour power and to use its materials in the best interests of the country.
Finally, I appeal to the Government on at least two matters. Let us have a little practical example of patriotism at this time. Let us have less talk about patriotism and more application of the principle. After all, the nation will judge this Government, not by their platitudes about their devotion to the cause of the nation, but by their handling of these affairs. If they handle them in a way detrimental to the very best interests of the nation, then, most assuredly, when the electors have the opportunity of again expressing their opinion, they will turn out this Government in favour of a more stable and more patriotic Labour Government.
I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), will forgive me if I do not follow him through all the many twists and turns of an argument which I believe to be entirely fallacious; but before I make the point on which I wish to speak, I would observe with regard to his argument about the increase in the number of vehicles if the 25-mile limit is abolished, that it seems to me that the increase in the number of vehicles since the war is very largely the result of the policy of the Labour Government in restricting the small private haulier to a 25-mile limit. Whereas many small firms in the past employed the local small private haulier for the occasional long-distance journeys which their goods required, now each such firm has a C licence instead, thus increasing the number of vehicles and the drivers necessary to carry their traffic.
It seems to be argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is unwise to do anything to give greater freedom to the road hauliers, because it seems to be assumed that the road haulage section of the nationalised industry is the most profitable part. But one glance at the accounts of the Third Annual Report of the British Transport Commission for 1950 show that that is a wrong argument. Whereas the carriage of passengers, goods and freight by rail earned a profit of £26,330,000, the British Road Services showed a deficit of £1,106,000 for the same period.
Would the hon. Gentleman inform the House, to give the picture accurately, how much of the road transport industry, passenger or freight, was nationalised during the period to which these figures relate?
It is two and a half years since they were nationalised.
Hon. Members may know that I served as an assistant solicitor with the Great Western Railway for 19 years, and for one year with the British Transport Commission, before I resigned for political reasons. In that capacity I had an opportunity of a close view of transport problems, and I suggest that the picture I gained was more complete, dealing as I did with all departments, than that obtained by many hon. Members who perhaps served in some operating department and only saw a part.
I have never believed that road competition was the sole, or the main, reason for railway decline.
My view was that the railways, when they were first built 100 years ago, were assumed by this House to be a monopoly, many restrictive provisions were rightly put in each railway Act on that assumption. When the railways ceased to be a monopoly by reason of the development of other forms of transport, it would have been much more reasonable, instead of seeking to extent that monopoly so as to include the roads, to remove the restrictions from the railways in order that they might compete with other forms of transport on fairer grounds. That, in fact, was the original proposal put forward in the Square Deal plan, which unfortunately was diverted in another direction.
The situation today is quite different from that existing before the war. It is certainly not the case nowadays that too much transport is chasing too little traffic; in fact, the situation is quite contrary to that. We only have to think of the embargoes placed on railway traffic during the earlier months of this year in order to realise that the railways could not then handle all the traffic offered to them, very largely on account of shortage of staff. It seems to me that the present Government would help the railways much more if they can find a solution to that very difficult problem of what to do about the call-up of railway firemen, rather than continue the persecution of small road hauliers.
Speaking from my own experience, two evils have been introduced into the railway service by nationalisation, neither of which has anything much to do with the theory of public ownership. The first was the introduction of a spirit of despondency, because there was too much talk about the railways being "a poor bag of assets," and not enough resistance to the idea that they were an obsolete dying industry only to be kept alive for strategic reasons. That has frequently been the view which has not been resisted by hon. Members opposite, and I have heard it myself during transport debates in this House.
Unless we are able to persuade the public that there is a future for rail transport, we shall never get that enthusiasm from traders and passengers, desirable if they are to become good customers, or that spirit of keenness from the railway staff, which can only come about when the workers themselves believe that they have a future in the industry and can look forward to improved conditions as their industry prospers.
There is a simple answer to the people who think that the railways are obsolete, because it must be obvious that any Chancellor of the Exchequer, in any circumstances of which we can think at the present time, must resist on grounds of cost any attempt to make our road system sufficient to carry all the traffic that would arise if we had no railways. Our present road system simply would not carry such traffic now. On the other hand, our railways are there; they were built by the best engineers in their day, and many of them are very fine. There is no reason at all why they should not be used. I think there is plenty of traffic at the present time for both road and rail systems if we could get a degree of competition between the two. It would advantage the railways if there could be that degree of competition, and the public would be allowed to choose which was the cheaper and more convenient service.
The other effect of nationalisation is that there is too much striving after standardisation. It is really an impossible task for a mechanical engineer on the railways to ask him to design a standard locomotive suitable for all types of country, including the steep gradients of the west and the flat country in the east, and suitable for use for any purpose and burning any coal. The result is an average, not the best, because it is obvious that we want different types for different types of work.
When it comes to lesser matters, many items of standardisation have merely produced irritation without any improvement at all. For example, the variation of the signalling arrangements in the Western Region in regard to speed restrictions has produced no improvement in the safety standards of the service and are a mere irritation to the drivers. There are a number of other instances which I could quote concerning entirely irrelevant striving after standardisation.
There are many things which the Government can do for the railways. I have always said that it could do something to repeal many of the ancient statutes which are still imposing restrictions on the railways, and I have before now given the instance of the 68th Section of the Railway Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845, as to railway fencing which is a glaring example, but not the only one. The Government might also in present circumstances do something to achieve economies by passing the management of the restaurant cars over to the railways, abolish the Hotels and Docks Executives and give greater authority to the regions in regard to the co-ordination of road and rail traffic at regional or divisional level. I hope they will do something about giving the railways greater flexibility in charging. to which reference was made in some of our party literature during the Election.
Some of these are matters for legislation, and cannot, perhaps, be dealt with at the present time, but others can be dealt with under Section 4 (1) of the Transport Act, 1947. Such improvements would be preferable to continuing the stupid and unnecessary persecution of the small road haulier by the 25-mile limit, which is merely an inconvenience to the public and does very little good to the railways.
The House has listened with attention, as it usually does, to varying types of speeches, including those from the Front Bench opposite. I would at once congratulate my recent chief, on his speech, and the present Minister of Supply, I would tell him that he will find an enormous amount of interesting work to do, and that he will also find that what hon. Members opposite talk about and have promised may become completely different when they have to put their promises into actual performance.
I can promise the new Minister of Supply and the leader of the new Government the full and complete support of the men engaged in the steel industry, with certain provisos, to which I will refer in a moment, and also assure them that every endeavour will be made by these splendid fellows to make a continued success of the industry of which we are so proud.
The Government may ask why I should make that promise, and there is a very simple reason. We shall, of course, be called upon, after the next General Election, to take over again the running of this great industry, and we want to take over the best possible job that we can find, regardless of the fact whether the industry has been de-nationalised or not.
That is a fair promise, and I pledge my personal word—and I believe that my word counts for something in the steel industry—that everything I can possibly do to help them in their most arduous task I will do.
What were the types of speeches which we have heard? We have had speeches from persons directly connected with the ownership and managerial side of industry, and it is to be noted that those hon. Members on the Government benches who speak on the subject of steel do not seek their Parliamentary seats in iron and steel constituencies. They do not fight the battle of steel nationalisation where there are steel works and steel workers; they fight the battle in areas from which the iron and steel industry is most remote.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) on his speech, and on his portrayal of the situation as he sees it. He has, like myself, spent some 35 years in the industry, and he knows something about it. I would recommend every hon. Member opposite, and particularly the Front Bench, to read the hon. Member's speech. If the Minister of Supply will act upon it I do not think that he will find much antagonism coming from this side of the House. That speech was made by a practical man who knows the industry, and that is the type of speech that matters.
But what, up to now, has come out of the speeches of hon. Members opposite? There is a very clear indication that the suspicions of those of us on this side have been confirmed: that the new Government will put up with public control, will put up with a certain amount of public supervision, will put up with a form of corporation or board to supervise the industry, but that on no account must such a corporation or board be held commercially or financially accountable to this House. That is the issue at stake. Do not let us try to hide the issue from either the public or ourselves. I know there is some talk about the limitation of dividends for the period of the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "For the period of re-armament."] I am sorry; I am probably prejudging the result of a new Tory Government.
I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). He said that no effort should be made to pay for works which they now know are becoming obsolescent and redundant, that they should be struck off, that they should be carried at the expense of the taxpayer. But he very conveniently forgets the time when, under private enterprise. works were shut down lock, stock and barrel and when the directors and shareholders were continued to be paid profits from the companies kept in being.
I now want to come to the issue at stake, which is whether, at a time of rearmament and when the Government themselves are telling the world at large that never were we so beset, or, in words used in another place, never was the world so disquieted, this great industry is to become once again a thing of financial interest instead of being—and we did it, backed by 14 million people—run in the public interest.
Last week many speeches were made in this House, among them one by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). I have always expected the speeches from that hon. Gentleman to be based on facts. (HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because I have always thought that anyone who found his way to this House through the honest people of Sheffield would at least know what he was talking about. In that speech the hon. Gentleman alleged that somehow political interference had prevented production. Will he now stand up and tell us when and where production was prevented?
Yes, I shall be pleased to quote the words. The hon. Member said:
Let me answer hon. Members opposite. We have had very good relations in the steel industry, which has done extremely well. We do not want politicians suggesting, for some reason or another, that the industry should be nationalised. We do not want to see trouble made by political trouble-makers. We want to see the industry get on to its feet again and work in harmony between management and labour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 140.]
In another part of his speech the hon. Member alleged that by political interference certain people had harmed the industry.
Today, we have heard the speech of the new Minister of Supply, in which he talked about a spanner having been thrown into the works. Practical people know that when a spanner is thrown into anything the job stops until the spanner is taken out. He stated that the new Government would take out the spanner. Will he say where the spanner thrown because of nationalisation has prevented a single ton of steel being produced anywhere in this country? Such a statement is a slander on the finest industrial section of our people, the steel workers of Britain.
During and since the last war they have worked 168 hours out of 168 hours. Not one unit of production, given the raw materials, has ceased to function for an hour. The sort of talk we have heard is the wrong foot to start off on; if it is an indication of the new Minister's outlook, then the good will of the industry which he should have, and should be entitled to have, will not be forthcoming.
Hon. Members opposite talk about returning the industry to private enterprise. But the industry cannot return to something which it never has been. The steel industry has never been free, unfettered private enterprise. Will any right hon. or hon. Member opposite tell me whether it has been possible in the last 25 years to ask for a specification of steel and for a price for a certain steel in competition with other works in the country?
Hon. Members opposite talk also about the elimination of bulk buying. Will any right hon. Member of the Government Front Bench say whether one pennyworth of ore or scrap—and that is a very small amount at present prices—has been bought except under the system of bulk buying in the last 25 years? All this talk about private enterprise is sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy. There never was any such thing.
When we decided to nationalise the industry it was a tight monopoly, accountable to nobody except itself. That is what the row is all about. I wish to pay tribute not only to the workers of the industry, but also to the managements and directors of the industry for what they have done since it was nationalised. There was some little fear on the part of the Opposition, when we were the Government, about the evil effect of nationalisation. They prophesied chaos, the destruction of the industry, and that production would fall. Again, sheer, unadulterated nonsense.
Ever since we came to power in 1945—the figures are conclusive and are there for all to read—right up to last Saturday, production has continued to increase, not just because of the effort of the men concerned, although they have made a magnificent effort, but because of the responsibility shown by all concerned regarding the national need.
Nothing of the sort. If the hon. Gentleman is not too busy looking up that bad speech he made last week, he will find, according to the figures given in the 1950 Report of the Iron and Steel Federation that the increase in steel ingots is over 3 million tons since 1945.
The issue is not so much how the industry is to be de-nationalised, but for what purpose is it to be done. As I see it, the simple issue is whether in the future the industry is to be run for the benefit of the public at large or returned to private enterprise for the benefit of shareholders? The Government have accepted the fact that coal shall remain for all time nationalised. Why? Because, when it was in their hands, private enterprise made such an unholy mess of it and when, because of the rottenness and evil of the system. men were driven from the industry and swore that their sons would never enter it.
Will any Member of the Government tell me the difference between the geological wealth of coal and that of ore given by Almighty God to this country? There is no difference except for the fact that, on the one hand, they made an awful mess of it, and, on the other, it is now a money spinner and for that reason can be taken back. The steel industry is now a profit-making concern, and, therefore, the previous owners want to take it back.
I would remind the Government that here we have the spectacle of one nationalised industry about to be de-nationalised, which will be almost entirely dependent upon another nationalised industry. The Minister of Supply made it very clear in a speech last week that although we would have to buy a certain amount of coal from India and America we would still be committed to buy ore from Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and so on, and that we should have to pay for it with nationalised coal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Money."] The day of bags of gold has gone. Bags of coal are much more important than bags of gold. We are burying gold and we are not digging enough coal. Let us not forget that. Coal is the vital thing upon which the future prosperity of this country depends, regardless of any Government; and this industry, if de-nationalised, will depend completely upon coal, ore and limestone—all the Almighty's gifts—to create the pig-iron to replace the loss of scrap iron.
The new Minister has a great headache here, among others. He knows that the biggest headache is the supply of raw material to the industry. He knows that scrap is item No. 1. But what was the spectacle we saw in the House not many weeks ago? What happened on these benches at six o'clock one morning during the Tories' harrying and harassing campaign? Those who now ask for co-ordination, co-operation, unification and unity, and so on, had something else to say.
My opponent at the recent election told my constituents, who did not take much notice of him, judging by the result, that there was short-time working because of lack of scrap steel. There is a shortage of scrap steel, but when the Labour Government brought in an order to increase the price of scrap as an incentive—in which the present Government believe—to find the scrap, we had the spectacle of those who are now saying there is not sufficient scrap praying against the order.
That is the kind of thing for which the Tories are becoming renowned. They tell their constituents one thing and do exactly the opposite on the Floor of the House. They are running completely true to form and in exactly the way we expected them to do. However, I am glad to know—I have made notes for my speech, but I find that when I make them there is never need to use them as there is so much to say—that the Front Bench of my party have made it completely clear that in the event of de-nationalisation every penny-piece made above a fair and reasonable profit in this time of economic stress and re-armament shall be taken from those who benefit thereby. That is the one condition upon which my constituents will give of their best.
When I tried to ask questions during the debate last week I was not allowed to interrupt. What is good to give is not bad to take and, therefore, the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) is not having any today.
I am glad that our Front Bench has made that statement. The men in the steel industry will rejoice that those who benefit beyond a decent limit of profit, as a result of their labours in turning the geological wealth of the country to defend the country's best interests, shall have every farthing taken from them when we get back into power. I am glad that has been made clear, because I was going to request that someone on our Front Bench should make it clear.
All this talk about patriotism being a lop-sided thing and the prerogative of one party is sheer unadulterated nonsense. So is the attempt to get people to believe that this organisation would be better if it were returned to private enterprise. Eighty-two directors held 720 directorships between them. Only two companies, coming within the ambit of the Act, were not associated or interlocked with one another by directorships.
I suggest to the Minister of Supply that he should send a personal letter to every steel worker in the country, and every one of their managements, reminding them of the position—though they do not need to be reminded. It might run something like this: "Dear Sir and Brother." [Laughter.]Yes, having come to the penitents' bench that should be made completely clear.
The letter would read: "As you have become painfully aware, the country is now under entirely new management. That being so, I have to request, on behalf of the nation, that you should at once increase your production by not less than 10 or 15 per cent."—that is a fair request—"Please do not write and ask me where the raw material is to come from for you so to do. This is a matter which will receive the attention of the Minister during Parliament's eight weeks' holiday. As you are aware, however, it our intention to see to it that the aforesaid increase in production shall be obtained. Do not write back inquiring how this is possible with the decreased strength arising from the fact that you are now going to get less to eat."Why? Because we have had definite decisions already made by the Government that less food is to be made available to those who are doing the work.
"Under Socialism," the letter would continue, "you would have at least the opportunity of asking where the profit that accrued from your labour was to go. As you know from past experience, under the Tories that is none of your business so please do not ask foolish questions. Yours very respectfully (signed) the Minister of Supply. P.S., from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food: Do not allow your wife to see this letter as she will be puzzled as to how to give you the requisite food so that you will have the strength to do the above. P.P.S., from the Ministry of Post Mortems "—which will have to be set up in the near future—"You thought you were doing badly under misery Cripps, but wait until I have finished with you."
That is the sort of letter which I think would secure an immediate response. After all, these best of men are only working 168 hours out of 168. There is quite a lot of time left for them to play about. The letter might add: "In the event of your having some spare time. there is the Home Guard in which you can serve." I do not want to be too facetious, but these debates need not always be conducted in the atmosphere of a mortuary. We shall get there soon enough.
Coming from facetious things to serious matters, I warn the Government to tread warily in this matter. The Government could do nothing worse to upset the morale of these splendid men, many of whom I have the privilege and honour to represent in this House, than for them to learn that in addition to the increase in the Bank rate, which will please the bankers very much, somebody, somewhere, will have an increased dividend arising from their sweat on behalf of the country. I say that with all the sincerity I can command.
This country is down to bedrock—it could not get much lower than it is—arising from the need to defend the property of those who own the most. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] It is not nonsense. I know that when the friends of hon. Members opposite are looking after their property they will need two dogs where I will not need one—I have so little to lose. Nobody on the Government benches can say that I have not stumped the country from top to bottom telling the workers what were their duties.
If I got the sack for advocating Saturday morning working in the coalmines I am proud of the fact. If, in order to get a job in the Government, I had to talk with my tongue in my cheek they could keep their job and they would know what to do with it. That is blunt and straight.
The workers of this country have a lot to lose. They have had a fair deal under Socialism. One sometimes wonders if they have not had too much. The workers will respond to the new Government's request provided the Government prove what they say, when they say that, at long last, there is no difference between Tories and Socialists, and that, even the Tories would have this country find its way to the place it ought to be in. But we have serious misgivings.
My final words are very simple. We must make more and better use of the indigenous raw materials that Almighty God gave us—our coal and iron ore. I suggest to young Tories, particularly to those young Tories who go round the country at election time asking silly questions of men of my type, to take off their napkins and put on some sweat towels, to put down their poisoned pens and take up picks and shovels. If they will do that then they will get somewhere.
I am sure that the House will realise the position in which I am placed and will respond to the very slight extent that I ask, in that I have to make my speech three hours or so before I had planned. In view of what has been arranged, I shall not be able to follow the rollicking speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), which we all enjoyed so much, though from different standpoints. We all enjoyed his rollicking humour, and my hon. Friends and I particularly enjoyed the admission he made, in the midst of his jocularity, that the result of six and a half years of Socialism is that the country is now down to bedrock. Apart from that very short response, I must do what it was promised that I would do, and that is deal with the position of transport.
I would remind the House of the terms of the Amendment which we are discussing, and the concern which is expressed because it is alleged that our proposals will
create anxiety and uncertainty in two vital industries.
This tenderness comes oddly from a party who must have caused, and intended to cause, more industries to shake in their shoes during the past few years than any other Government in history. May I put this simple point? It may well be that putting something right involves a certain disturbance, but it does not involve so much disturbance as putting something wrong, and it is always more worth doing.
Whatever else hon. Members opposite may have doubt about, they cannot have any doubt about our intentions in this matter. They are set out quite clearly in our election documents, and our intention is, as it has always been, to diminish the monopolistic powers of the British Transport Commission over the long-distance section of the road haulage industry, and to give an opportunity to those private hauliers who wish to do so to return into a business from which so many of them have been ousted by the Transport Act.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) asked us to explain why. It is almost five years to the day since I moved the rejection of the Transport Bill. I see opposite hon. Members who listened with praiseworthy patience to almost all of the 179 speeches I made on that Measure, but no hon. Member can say that during those five years I have ever resiled from the position that road haulage is a matter of local application and can only be carried out by small units which can give that application in the country. So at any rate what we are doing is no surprise.
We believed five years ago, and we believe now, that the specialised service which free hauliers can render to trade and industry is an indispensable part of our transport position, and that they cannot be adequately replaced by a nation-wide undertaking, however well organised or administered. The reason for that is that in any business there is established an intimate and specialised relationship with its hauliers who carry the goods. The haulier thoroughly understands his customers' needs and any special features of the carrying on of that business, far better than any large impersonal undertaking, however eager it may be for the trade. The haulier in that position is enabled to make these special efforts to deal with particular difficulties or emergencies which constantly arise.
The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), in a very careful and closely-reasoned speech to which I listened with great attention, raised the problem of the labour position and the potential wastage of labour in the sense of too much labour, but not wastage in the other sense. He—and, if not he himself, many of his colleagues—has insisted time and again that the over-use of road vehicles is to be found in connection with the C licence. I ask him to consider this point, as I know he will, whether he ultimately agrees with it or not.
It is because of the absence of that essential service which gives that local application and that study of the needs of industry at both ends, for raw materials coming in and products coming out, that we have had the enormous growth of the C licences of which he is aware. The only way in which we shall deal with that growth and the problem which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have so often posed is by getting a road transport service which is efficient and deals with that point.
I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent our point of view. It is perfectly true that many of us have argued that the C licence holder is creating an excessive amount of increased labour and use of vehicles on the road transport side, but the point which we have made very often, and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has skilfully avoided mentioning, is the fact that when the undertakings were taken over the short-distance local haulier who operated for 25 miles, to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, was left to carry on his private business. The others were bought out and their goodwill was transferred to the Transport Commission.
It was not because the previous services were not available but because the manufacturers immediately decided to boycott the national services that C licences arose. They never gave the national transport organisation a chance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech !"] The right hon. and learned Gentleman can reply. They decided as a matter of policy to boycott the national transport industry, cost what it may, and that was said by many industrialists.
I think the hon. Member will agree that he has had a very full opportunity for answering my point, and I make no complaint; but I say that in every other transport debate in which I have taken part—and these are legion—the spearpoint of the attack has been on the C licences. I was therefore right, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, to deal with what I consider is the only method of coping with the tendency for C licences to increase, and that is to have a sound road transport service.
The other point which the hon. Gentle-made about the come-back into the industry is a separate point and, if he will allow me and for the moment trust me, I will leave it for the time being and deal with it when I come to that point. It is not quite the same point as that which I was answering, which was about the excessive amount of labour employed.
I have explained why we think this action is necessary, and I want now to deal with the second question posed by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall—Why are we interrupting the present process? We are interrupting it because we do not think the line pursued by the Transport Act and the British Transport Commission is the way to integration. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of a point which he repeated so often, quite properly, when he was assisting his right hon. Friend with the Transport Bill—the point that the intention of the Act as laid down in Section 3 is:
to provide, or secure or promote the provision of, an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport and port facilities within Great Britain ….
How often have we heard that impeccable objective held out as an excuse for a far-from-perfect performance. I am prepared to admit that an integrated system, if it is possible at all, cannot be built up in a day, but I have just said that it is almost exactly five years since I moved the rejection of that Bill, and surely approximately four years is long enough for the general outline of a new structure to become apparent, if it is ever
to become apparent. Integration in the sense intended by the framers of the Act has not taken place and shows no sign of taking place within the foreseeable future. That is our answer to the right hon. Gentleman and it is an answer which, so far, has met no reply.
I turn now to the other point, that the public are getting a better service. I do not believe anyone in the House can get up and put his hand on his heart and say now, after the experience we have had, that the public are getting a better service. Certainly those who use the Commission's services do not think so, and they ought to know. We believe that many haulage businesses have been sacrificed to no purpose. We hope that a great many have not been disintegrated and dissolved beyond recall.
I know that we must all make party points, and I do not complain about that; I suppose I have made them; we have all made them, and we shall all make them again. What I object to is the inability to distinguish between merely financial troubles and the trouble of heart and soul which comes from destroying businesses into which people have put not only their money but also their lives and every particle of their energy. That is what we are fighting for today, and we have always said we would fight for it.
I turn now to a point with which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall did not deal. If I may say this about someone who is so careful, I have always felt that he has never really understood the possibilities of the licensing system for goods vehicles and the manner in which it could function. I know it is difficult to get every angle or aspect of the matter, but I hope the House will bear with me here, because it is an important part of our proposals and of my argument to show how this will function.
We recognise that a licensing system, with independent licensing authorities, is a most important matter. We have never accepted the position propounded by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that, because an entity is a public corporation, it therefore has the right to dictate the extent and scope of its opponents' service and it has no need to suffer what in the right hon. Gentleman's view is an indignity for a public corporation— namely, itself appearing before an independent authority. That is not our view of a free society and we do not think it is compatible with a free society. That is why we have put forward these proposals—which the right hon. Gentleman ignored, of course, in his speech—that both sides, both private enterprise and public enterprise, should come before a licensing authority.
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will permit me to intervene. I am anxious to follow him in this matter. If I may say so with respect, he has put before the House the proposals which his party embodied in the Gracious Speech but he is arguing a case from the election manifesto. It would be helpful if we knew whether it is the case of the Conservative manifesto which is to form the basis of the proposals he is now arguing.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Perry Bar (Mr. Poole) is trying to follow the argument. The argument which I have advanced is this: that in order to have an efficient transport system we must have local application; that the method laid down by the Transport Act, 1947, will not fulfil the intentions of the Act and will not give an efficient system; that if we are to introduce local application, as I suggest we should, we must give full weight to a licensing system. The hon. Gentleman will find that set out in the election manifesto, and I intended him to believe that it was one of the foundations not only of my argument but also of our intended action.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to me, and perhaps I might intervene. Does it mean that if a Minister, with the authority of Parliament, gives a general direction to a section of the road haulage system to do something, that Ministerial and Parliamentary direction can be over-ruled by some local transport commissioner who takes a different view?
The right hon. Gentleman has the complete authoritarian approach. That is not how we envisage the thing working at all. We do not ask for powers to over-rule or disregard independent bodies. We ask that justice and equity should be decided by independent people. Why I desired to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the licensing system was this: If he and his hon. Friends had not jumped in with their unsuccessful attempt to find a short-cut, the licensing would have worked out in this way—every road haulier would have had to show the relationship of his post-war work to his pre-war work, and for a good reason.
During the war, we were working on permits. It was pure luck if one fellow was called up to the Army and another fellow was told by the Departments to do an immense volume of work. It is totally unfair that the mere accident of war-time work should decide it. This is not my theory. This was actually decided by the Appeals Tribunal. They could then look at each case, and consider what, in their view—not on the luck of the war but of the fair development of a pre-war business—he should get.
The second point, which the right hon. Gentleman has always ignored, is that in order to get a licence renewed, one must show that there has been no change of circumstances, which means that one must show that one has not altered the places between which one ran or the class of goods carried. If this has been done, then two things have to be shown: not merely that people want to employ one, but that no one else can give an adequate service. It follows from that, as I have tried to convince the right hon. Gentleman before, that if someone who fulfils these conditions is not allowed to run, we areipso factocondemning the producers of this country to an inferior form of transport. That is an economic policy to which my right hon. Friends and I are not prepared to commit ourselves or, what is much more important, the country. That is the position.
I have had this argument with the right hon. Gentleman before, and his view is the perfectly accepted Socialist preconception that if we have a public corporation then the public corporation is always right and can decide, not only what it will do itself, but what its trade rivals will do. Our point of view is that however well a public corporation may be run, it cannot be given these almost godlike powers, but should be subject to the restraint of independent examination for the purpose, as both Acts lay down, of seeing that an adequate service is provided.
I come to the next point which the right hon. Gentleman asked. He asked. "What will you do with regard to the present situation?" I want to explain to him how the standstill is to be conducted in these cases. If the Commission were to acquire any more road haulage undertakings at a time when the Government policy is to facilitate the expansion of private road haulage activities, it would obviously not only cause hardship but be contrary to common sense.
I am glad, therefore, to inform the House that the Road Haulage Executive have delivered notices to operators whose acquisition is pending, offering them, if they wish, a postponement of the date of transfer for six months. These cases arise under Section 54 of the Act which provides that an operator may require the Commission to acquire the whole or a part of his undertaking if they have refused an original permit or imposed limitations on such a permit or refused to continue the permit and by so doing have caused substantial interference with some activity on which he had been engaged before the introduction of the Transport Bill.
There are between 80 and 90 cases which will be affected. I want the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate how it would be done. I would say to my hon. Friends, and to any hon. Members who are concerned with the matter, that we feel that retrospective action would be quite impracticable. We have no power to cancel acquisitions already made. It would be difficult and inequitable to contemplate that we should go back on matters that have already been dealt with. I hope that the House will understand that point and how the standstill will be imposed.
It is during the period in which legislation will be introduced. In these cases, the Executive have given those who might be acquired the chance of delaying the date of transfer for six months. That gives us time during the period of transition before the legislation is brought in.
Does this affect those concerned who have previously been taken over? I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that there was no suggestion of retrospective action so far as they are concerned. Does this refer to the interim period between this date and the actual introduction of the Bill?
This deals with the position up to the introduction of the Bill. Of course, when I said "retrospective action" I meant that one could not job back to the date of the General Election, or something like that. We must take a line—one must always do that in legislation—and we take the line that the people not acquired today will get the six months, but the people who have been acquired will have to be dealt with by our legislation, which will be discussed by the House. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman had in mind, and I hope that I have made the position quite clear.
With regard to the alteration of the 25-mile limit—
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has left completely in the background the proposals with regard to those road hauliers whose businesses have been taken over. Have they no right to go back into business, or what is the proposal?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course they will have the right. That will be dealt with by legislation. The point I was making was that on coming back into the industry they will then have to submit to a licensing system which will protect the railway companies, the existing hauliers, the Commission and everyone else, and the public ownership will have to submit to the same point. [Interruption.] I do not want to be led into the byway of arguing this at length because many hon. Members have not the same intense interests in this as the hon. Member for Perry Barr.
I was passing to the next point, which was the alteration of the 25-mile limit. That will be altered, but the steps that will be taken and the change that will be made I cannot tell the House today, because obviously there will have to be consultation with all those affected, in- cluding the Commission, the Road Haulage Executive and the private interests that are involved, before this is done.
There has been some discussion on the delay in coming to a decision. I would remind hon. Members opposite that it was in November, 1945, that the right hon. Member for Lewisham. South (Mr. H. Morrison) announced that there would be nationalisation of the mines, electricity, gas and transport; and that steel nationalisation would be somewhat later. The Transport Bill was not introduced until November, 1946, the Electricity Bill until December, 1946, the Gas Bill until 1948, and the Iron and Steel Bill until November, 1948. Even allowing for our right to make party points, the right hon. Gentleman ought not, I think, to make a point of a fortnight's delay in coming to a decision in this matter.
We are all aware of the risk in overhasty action, which could result in some temporary dislocation. Before legislation is introduced, the Commission and the industry, as well as others, will have to be consulted. The general effect of the Transport Act may be evident, but much of the Commission's internal organisation is still a closed book. We cannot, of course, estimate to what extent private hauliers will want to re-enter the industry and take a greater share in it.
There must be a period of delay while these matters are considered. We want to assure the House—my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport authorises me to speak for his special consideration as well as the general view of the Government—that we shall take particular care during this period to see that the flow of transport is not impeded, and we shall not, from a desire for quick action on the lines that appeal to us, take any risk with the general transport interests of the country.
I am well aware that that is the only matter on which the House wanted to hear what I had to say, but I hope they will bear with me when I deal with one or two points which I should, in the ordinary course of events, have kept for a later stage. It does not lie in the mouth of the Opposition to advance the argument that our proposals will create anxiety and misunderstanding. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall took that risk with his eyes wide open to the risk he was taking. The present position of the steel industry was quite foreseeable by him when he insisted on implementing the terms of the Iron and Steel Act. He knew that a General Election was likely, and he knew at that time that the chances of the present result were very strong. He need not have taken the decision which he did, which was also the decision of the Government of which he was a member, to implement that Act, when there was already a majority of two million against it in the country, and it was likely to be succeeded by a majority in this House against it.
The right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic has never been his strong point, but if he adds the Liberal vote he will find a different picture. May I remind him that a careful reading of other parties' manifestoes is an understandable weakness in a party leader like himself, but he must not think I am blaming him for that. It is difficult enough to read and construct a manifesto of one's own party, and we all appreciate that about the right hon. Gentleman. I would remind him that the manifesto of the Liberal Party says:
In particular, we opposed the Act for the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. This we would repeal.
That is clear enough, and on that there is a majority of votes in the country against nationalisation and there is a majority of the Members of this House against it. In the last House, although the Government had a majority of half a dozen votes, there was still a majority of votes in the country against them. And I submit that my argument is not only reasonable but overwhelming on that point.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman quite appreciates how fallible it is to rest on the Liberal vote. They say one thing at one election and one at another. One never knows where one is and how far they are behind one. We all know that manifestos on the Government side of the House do not mean anything.
The right hon. Gentleman must not lead me into bad ways. I have made a most restrained speech, entirely free from abuse, and, therefore, it would be terrible, if, after using all this restraint, I were to follow the right hon. Gentleman into these realms of party abuse.
The point I was making was a fair one. The possibilities of the political scene were clearly in the mind of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, and if he took a risk it is not going to get him out of the blame of taking that risk to say, in the words of La Fontaine's description of his animal, that this animal is very wicked; when anybody attacks it, it defends itself. That is the kernel of the case which the right hon. Gentleman deployed today with so much eloquence.
Hon. Members opposite should consider with special care the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply on the question of the export trade. It is the classical difficulty, which has always been posed to Socialism in action, that, while it may conceivably be possible to enforce a Measure inside the country, no one has ever yet shown how it can be enforced against other countries with a private enterprise system, where there is a right to take big risks and apply private enterprise to meet the needs, the fashions and the tastes of customers.
My right hon. Friend's point was that we must not look merely at the present sellers' market, but at the potential competition from the United States and Japan. I listened with great care to the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham, as I have to every speech that has been made, but I have heard no answer to that. Now that the hon. Member is back in the Chamber, I say again that it was a little below that high moral standard which we expect from him—and which we have seen on matters in which he has helped the whole House by giving them a picture in which, may I say to him through you, Mr. Speaker, the vast majority of the House has great confidence—it was a little below the approach that we expect of him, when he said that this was merely a matter of money and of finance. [HON. MEMBERS: "So it is."] After all, a Government that re-introduces, at the same time as these proposals, an Excess Profits Tax—
I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to misquote me. I went on to say that there was some talk of E.P.T. for the period of re-armament, but I was not certain about the position thereafter.
It means during the period of re-armament. E.P.T. works on comparative periods, and it means that there can be no further increase over the basic period over that time. That is the way in which E.P.T. works. I am putting the point because the hon. Gentleman has put himself definitely upon this point. It is only fair that those who are judging the matter should have this point in mind that we who make this proposal in a line of policy about which we have never faltered or changed, have accompanied this policy by proposals for taxation which mean that profits cannot be increased.
Do we understand that the Government's proposal with regard to E.P.T. is a 100 per cent. tax? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said it means that it is taken against a previous figure, and that there will be no increase in profit.
I am sorry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I did not mean to commit the Government. My intention was not to refer to the percentage of taxation. I was dealing with the operation of the tax and I am much obliged to the hon. Member for this question, if I gave a false impression. I was trying to follow the argument. The amount must be a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I come to the last point which I want to put to the House. I am not going to follow the hon. Gentleman on the question whether the board is better than the present method because that argument has been made several times. I do remind the House that the board would have a purview over a much wider section of the industry than the Corporation. I believe that is important. The finishing processes are largely excluded from the Corporation's purview and are an important part of the industry which could be brought under the board.
I want hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House to consider for a moment, as objectively as a party politician can, the problem which is before us today. It is this: that there are strong and firmly-felt differences between us as to the best organisation of industry.
I cannot speak for the hon. Gentleman. I am speaking for the great majority of the House and I put this point for the consideration of the House. I have tried to be very restrained. I believe that, apart from the hon. Member, there are strong and firmly-felt divisions between us as to the best method of re-organisation of industry. If these views are strongly and sincerely felt, the question of reversal must come up. It follows. It is a consequence of the strength and sincerity with which both sides hold their views. I fully realise that the suggestion of a reversal of a policy to which hon. Gentlemen are sincerely attached will cause disappointment and pain, but I sincerely put this consideration before the House as a House. I hope hon. Gentlemen will think I am sincere in putting it, and I should just like them to try this approach to the problem.
Let us look for a moment at the common objective which both our different actions seek to attain. It is the prosperity of the industry—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—the prosperity of the industry— as a whole, and—
Perhaps the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), will give me this point, if he will not give me the first—the opportunity for the industry of doing its best for our country. Those are the objectives of our different actions.
I am asking hon. Gentlemen to take this as the highest common factor on which we are agreed. I take no statement of ours. I take the statement from the Trades Union Congress Report:
No one should seek public ownership for the sake of public ownership, but only as the best method of doing the job.
That is our common factor, on which we are agreed. In the case of one industry we have private enterprise and the admission that public supervision is necessary,
and in the case of another industry we have an admission by both sides that there should be a part for private enterprise and a part for public ownership. Our problem is to find the dividing line.
When the dust and heat of the Election are gone down a bit, is it too much to ask that hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House should try to find where that dividing line should be drawn and that we should make an effort -I know how everyone feels at this moment, but, after all, we have to look at the vista ahead —to find agreement as to what is the proper dividing line? [AN HON. MEMBER: "It was done a year ago."] I only ask the House to consider it. If hon. Members will consider it, I believe we shall have found one other matter in which our Parliamentary democracy is a proper example to the world.
I want to deal with one or two matters mentioned by the Home Secretary. He asked us to find some common approach with him to the problems that we have to solve. I shall suggest some tests which we shall apply in order to achieve national unity.
The first test in connection with the steel industry is that he should so arrange whatever form of organisation that he wants to set up so that the profit to be made during the period of re-armament does not go to the benefit of the shareholders but reverts to the nation. If he can undertake that the whole of the profit in the steel industry will go to the nation and not to private shareholders who have nothing to do with the efficiency, the output or the future of the industry, there may be some grounds on which we can listen to him with a little more patience than we have done tonight.
The second test is whether he will be prepared to drop the proposals about the de-nationalisation of road transport. He says that it is our common objective to see that industry gives of its best to the nation. On that test there is no case at all for de-nationalisation of road transport. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), said just now that he could not understand why the Home Secretary was dealing with this matter. I congratulate the Minister of Transport on not having to deal with it, and I suggest that he lets the baby stay where it is, because before it is finished with it will be a very troublesome baby to handle. The real reason why the Home Secretary has dealt with it is that the Home Secretary has still got the Conservative Central Office brief. If the Minister of Transport had had to deal with it he would have had a brief from his officials and they could not have written anything like what the Home Secretary has said tonight.
The Home Secretary spoke about the necessity for getting rid of the monopolistic powers of the Commission. He must know that that is not true. Today 6,000 hauliers are operating on A and B licences over the 25-mile limit carrying goods up and down the country. Does that sound monopolistic? What about the special traffic for timber, meat, furniture, and livestock, none of which are run by the commission. Is that a monopoly? These traffics may be, and are, carried on by anybody. Does that sound monopolistic? What about all the C licence holders? The Home Secretary has told us that there are thousands of them, and he says that they have been growing up because the British Road Services cannot give the service that the consumers want. Does that sound monopolistic?
The Home Secretary must put over a better case than that before he advances that as the first reason for doing something about road transport. The first task he has is to make the integration of road transport with rail transport better than it is. The right hon. and learned Gentleman—I really mean this—ought to be ashamed of this proposal. He spoke tonight as a Minister looking after the interests of the road hauliers. The job of his right hon. Friend is to look after the transport of the nation and not the road hauliers. It is the job of the Minister of Transport to ensure that the minimum amount of our national resources is put into transport in order to do the job properly.
The new proposal is that the hauliers will be allowed to come back into the industry later. How are they coming back? Are they to be allowed to buy back their vehicles from the British Road Services? Is that the way it will be done? It is a rather important question. If the hauliers are to be allowed to buy back their vehicles, upon what terms will they buy them? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made a great deal over the last few months about the loss that the British Road Services have been making this year. I will advance the reason why they have made a loss. The reason is given in the Report which I have here. It is because British Road Services took over so much junk and have had, in the words of the Report, to renovate vehicles almost wholly. This is interesting. Why have they had to do that? It is because they cannot buy new vehicles as they are going for export.
I ask the Home Secretary to listen to this point because, when he or his poor right hon. Friend comes to deal with the Bill, he will have to make a difficult decision. Will he let British Road Services sell to the hauliers the vehicles which they have renovated? If so, what will be the price? Alternatively, if the road hauliers are coming back into the industry, will they have to buy new vehicles and will they have to show the licensing authorities that they can lay their hands on new vehicles? If so, what happens to the President of the Board of Trade's export drive?
The only reason why the British Transport Commission has taken the trouble to renovate the vehicles is that so many vehicles are going to export now that they cannot get hold of new ones. Either way there will be a gross waste of national resources at a time when the Government are asking us to put everything we have into the job. This is a piece of legislation which we can all oppose bitterly and wholeheartedly because it has no element of national interest in it.
I want to deal with another point which must have arisen from the Central Office brief and not a Ministry of Transport brief. The Home Secretary told us that transport is of local application and that we wanted, therefore, to get away from the over-centralisation which has been going on in transport. The Conservative Central Office have failed to read the British Transport Commission Annual Report, in which it says quite clearly that there are 1,000 local depots up and down the country and that the British Road Services control only 40,000 vehicles out of the 800,000 goods vehicles in the country.
Only 40,000 out of 800,000. That is the element of monopoly. Apart from that, what is the answer to this? If we have 40,000 vehicles separated over 1,000 local depots, which means 40 vehicles a depot, does that sound as if there is local control over the vehicles in dealing with customers day by day? Of course it does, and I advise the Home Secretary to give up talking about this and hand the matter over to the Minister of Transport.
The Minister of Transport will have to look at some of the local depots, and he will see for himself, as many of us have done, the degree of local control that exists and the complete local relationship between the thousand local units and the customers in their areas. When we remember that last year British Road Services handled 100 million consignments weighing 50 million tons, the volume of complaint is singularly small.
I am sorry that the Home Secretary disagrees. I recommend him to read this Report before he speaks again. He will see that an examination of the statistics of Carter Patersons and Pickfords shows that the volume of complaints have been going down steadily each year from 1945 onwards and that there are fewer complaints about the services today than there were at the end of the war.
This subject ought not to take up too much of the time of the House. It is too sordid for that. [Laughter.] It is sordid, and I will make myself plain. I do not believe that this piece of legislation has anything to do with the national interest; it has to do with the fact that the road hauliers have been invited to subscribe to the Conservative Central Office funds. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite can easily disprove that. Let them publish their Accounts. Let us see where they get their £1 million, and then we shall be able to tell.
Would it not be fair of the hon. Gentleman to put the argument the other way round? If the hon. Gentleman has proof that this is the case, he should give his proof and not ask for a balance sheet.
The easiest way to demonstrate my point—and I quite agree with the hon. Member and will be fair also—would be. for him to put pressure on his Front Bench to publish the balance sheets and I will be fair and produce proof. I have seen in the organisation's magazines appeals to road hauliers to contribute to Conservative Central Office funds.
In "The Commercial Motor," about the middle of 1949. Certainly, when I was in the Ministry of Transport, there were notices there and in some of the smaller trade papers. I have not come here prepared to speak on this, but I can produce them for the hon. Member. I have quoted them before in this House, and it is well known. They are on record, and I am sorry if the hon. Member does not know about it. The second piece of evidence, whether they have responded to that appeal or not, is more up-to-date. After the Election it was Mr. Birch—I suppose his name is familiar to hon. Members—who said, "We now want the fruits of victory." What are the fruits of victory? They have paid for it and that is what they want. The Home Secretary ought not to lend the dignity of his presence—and he has a certain moral integrity—to a shabby, sordid piece of party politics like this.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman dodged the question of Excess Profits Tax. What is to be the proposal? He says this is not purely a question of money. If it is not purely a question of money in the case of road transport, I do not know what else it is; it has nothing to do with efficiency. I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no authority to answer me, but let him ask the Chancellor if the Excess Profits Tax is to be 100 per cent. If so, they clearly would not get anything out of re-armament and no one would cavil at that; indeed that is the basis of Excess Profits Tax.
But I want to remind hon. Members of what is going on behind the scenes, outside the House, namely, proposals to revise the basis of taxation of companies' profits. If they can at the same time impose an Excess Profits Tax and alter the basis of taxation of companies' profits so that they pay less and not more to the Revenue—[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman need not disappear quite behind the Despatch Box.
I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman might be writing out his letter of resignation. There are very real fears about this, and we shall be watching very carefully to see what the party opposite are going to do about Excess Profits Tax in relation to the basis of taxation of companies' profits.
Finally, I want to put on record my very strong protest to the Home Secretary that he should have spoken in this narrow way tonight. He did not say a word about the larger prospects about transport. He did not tell us what is going to be the result of this carve up of British Road Services, or of the effect on the railways.
I should have thought that when dealing with a particularly important piece of legislation like this we would have had from him some glimpse of the mind of the Government; of how they are to attempt to reconcile conflicting interests of road and rail and of private transport. Perhaps they have not fully thought out their policy, but they should not come down with a sectional policy designed to appease and satisfy the road hauliers, who are intent only on their own profit and do not care—I will not use the word I was going to use—anything about the national interest, but are merely concerned to be taking the cream off the best traffic in the country.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a wider responsibility than that, and he has not fulfilled it tonight. The nation will look to him, and we shall certainly watch him, to fulfil the task of making certain that the transport facilities and services of the country are run in the national interest and that the proper national resources are put into those services to make certain that they are run properly and efficiently. If hon. Members opposite give way to private profit what they are not prepared to put into a national pool it will be a particularly sordid piece of party politics.
It is unfortunate that we have to dodge from transport to steel and back again. I wish to speak on steel, but I also wish to make one comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It is so easy to defend and fortify your arguments by pretending that you and you alone express the public interest, whereas your opponents express just private greed. It is so easy but, in essence, surely so evasive.
My concern from the point of view of public interest is simply this—it is a fact which has not emerged in a single speech on transport from the other side of the House today—that road transport represents an improvement from the point of view of the industrialist over rail transport. Road transport can be integrated and fitted into his business in a way in which rail transport cannot, and it is therefore a technical advance.
The policy of unification and integration followed by the party opposite aims in essence at curbing the newer form of transport in order to protect the older form. I could say that that policy was animated by private interest—ask the hon. Members who come from the railway trade unions ! I am prepared to grant that before the war competition was undoubtedly biased in favour of road transport, but surely the proper policy is to encourage this technical advance if at the same time we can place road and rail on an equitable basis of competition. I share the regret of the hon. Member that this equitable basis of competition has not been sketched tonight, but I profoundly trust that that basis will be developed in the course of this Parliament.
I am glad that the hon. Member and I agree to that extent and both feel that something more positive should be said about road and rail, but will he go on to say why there was the hurry to introduce this particular piece of legislation and to make these particular proposals when they are not related to the wider issue?
As I understand them, they are interim proposals pending the elaboration of the wider scheme.
May I now revert to the question of steel, and in so doing make the customary declaration of interest. I wish to take up two sentences in the speech of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss). One was where he said that the industry is working well under the new regime, and the second was when he challenged this side of the House to mention a change which has been for the worse. I accept that challenge. I will indicate two or three changes which I believe to have been for the worse. There is not an hon. Member opposite who has not invested this whole question of the nationalisation of steel with an enormous significance. It represented, to use the Marxist mythology, capture of the citadel of economic power.
One does not carry out an intention like that, revolutionary in its purpose, without at the same time incurring a penalty. Those entrusted with the execution of the revolution or change are, in order to vindicate themselves and their cause, driven all the time to make changes in outward form, outward appearance, regardless of what happens to the inner substance. That is the gravamen of the charge to be made against the Corporation since its inception.
What are the questions with which the Corporation has been concerned? Take first the question of directors. Certain directors have been dismissed. The principle applied in the case of their dismissals was not the merits or demerits of the individual person; it was that those directors were representative of interests with which the companies were formerly linked and from which they are now severed. The nationalised Corporation had to be insulated against the "miasma" of former private enterprise. These directors went, the good and the bad, including such a person as Sir Arthur Matthews. A change was effected in outward form, but at the expense of inner efficiency.
The hon. Member makes the assertion that certain directors have been removed, and that is a fact, after careful assessment of their value to the immediate and current running of the organisation with which they were connected. Would the hon. Gentleman go on and tell the House that in place of those people, who in the main were guinea-pig directors who only attended board meetings, really live individuals, responsible for labour relations and so on, were put on the job full-time in their place?
It was not really worth while my giving way to the hon. Member. I name an example, Sir Arthur Matthews, an expert on the manufacture of specialised forgings, the product of the company from which he was dismissed. Merit or demerit had nothing to do with it. The only thing that mattered was that he had a connection with an interest from which the company was now severed.
To take the question dealt with at great length by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, the question of re-organisation. I bow to the superior knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sorry is not in his place. He explained the re-organisation proposals of the Corporation as being partly functional and partly geographical. According to my understanding the proposal is only fractionally functional and overwhelmingly geographical.
The idea is that the companies shall be grouped according to regions no matter how varied the products they make, and that they shall be placed under regional boards. In South Wales Richard Thomas and Baldwins, sheet and tinplate manufacturers, and Guest, Keen and Baldwins, billet makers, two different aspects of the trade, are placed under the same board. In the past the industry has been organised on a product pattern. In 1936, when the T.U.C. recommended the socialisation of the steel industry, it also recommended reorganisation on the basis of product not region.
What is to be the relationship between this new grouping according to region and the grouping that has hitherto obtained, the grouping according to product? Nobody knows. I challenge the chairman of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. He does not know. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall came to this House declaiming against uncertainty. His very recommendation of this regional pattern was a recommendation for the continuation of uncertainty.
The final question, which has been referred to by more than one speaker, is the division of the industry effected by the Iron and Steel Act. The problem of that Act, which it set at the very beginning, was what organisation or organisa- tions were to view the problems of the industry as a whole, both nationalised firms and the non-nationalised firms. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall never proffered a solution. The Act has been in existence for 12 months. There is no solution today.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the transfer having been effected with smoothness and success. Last summer a statement was issued on the progress of the discussions on this very question, and it ended by saying that discussions of the long-term organisation to be set up continued. There is no solution in sight, and in point of fact no solution is possible. The right hon. Gentleman is the architect of this uncertainty; he has caused it. His very plea this afternoon, a plea for the continuance of the Act, is a plea for the continuation of this state of suspense.
It seems to me that this is the overwhelming reason for annulling the Act, the fact that the preoccupation for 12 months has been with problems of outward form to the neglect of problems of substance. What is to be put in place of the Act? Speech after speech from the other side of the House this afternoon has represented the issue as being one of public interest, to use their phrase, as against, shall we say, private licence. libertine private enterprise.
Are Members opposite so sure that nationalisation has given them the public interest? Have they bothered to test that cliché against the facts? Is it not the truth that in setting up a Corporation which they themselves designated as the automatic interpreter of the public interest hon. Members opposite created an instrument which has in fact proved less amenable to Government guidance than was the privately owned industry?
Nor has any hon. Member or right hon. Member opposite today faced up to the proposal which is before the House. That proposal is not one of a return to a libertine private enterprise. The issue is the continuance of nationalisation or a supervisory board, but not merely a supervisory board as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall knew it. He indicated certain defects of that board. I think that the substance of his argument was that it was necessarily negative in character, it had no positive powers.
Surely the proposal before us is to add certain powers to that board. That is the proposal of the T.U.C. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall has never faced up to this issue. He never did once in the last Parliament, and he has not done it this afternoon. His whole argument, his one reply to this proposal of a supervisory board with added powers, was his interjection, made in the course of the speech of the Minister of Supply—an interjection which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) has made too—that the T.U.C., in recommending this supervisory board with added powers, did not mean it to apply to steel. Do hon. and right hon. Member opposite realise when they say that of what an enormous fatuity they are accusing the T.U.C.?—[Laughter]—they are laughing, but they say, "A supervisory board is a good thing. We believe it to be a good method of public control, but do not use it in the one industry where it has been tried and been successful." What arrant nonsense!
There is a yawning contradiction in the whole argument. Surely as politicians we know how to explain such contradictions. The contradiction is explicable only in this way, that our loyalties impose on us too often a certain public attitude, and our inner mind very often disapproves of that public attitude.
The hon. Gentleman is deploying a very important argument, and we should like to be very sure about this new declaration as laid down by the Conservative Party. Does he mean that the board to be set up as he indicated is a different board from the last one? Is it to be publicly accountable—not responsible, but accountable—to Parliament through a Minister?
The old board was publicly accountable to Parliament through a Minister and the proposal, as I understand it, is to set up a board with broadly the same composition, with representatives from the industry, from labour and the consumers, with an independent chairman or members, and to take account of the criticism of the negative character of the old board by adding to it certain positive powers. That is the proposal, as I understand it.
Surely I cannot explain it more clearly than that. I am giving hon. Members my clearest possible understanding of the proposal as I see it—[Interruption.] Hon. Members need not get wild. None of their arguments has taken this proposal into account. Why did the T.U.C. make this particular proposal? It is important to ask this. It made it for this reason: Hon. Members opposite have nationalised certain compact industries, what they call basic industries.
The problem concerning the T.U.C. was how to go beyond this; how to establish a form of public control over industries such as the chemical industry and the engineering industry which, in the words of the T.U.C. report, are a whole number of inter-connected industries. Once we try to nationalise those we run into difficulties of definition. Therefore, said the T.U.C., for these industries we recommend as a method of public control a supervisory board on the lines of the Iron and Steel Board with newer powers. Surely the iron and steel industry is the supreme example of an inter-connected industry of that kind. If the method is applicable to the field it is supremely applicable to this particular instance drawn from the field. This afternoon the right hon. Member for Vauxhall—
I am anxious to conclude, I have given way quite a lot. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall announced the intention of his party, as I understood it, to re-nationalise steel. I think it right to examine how, in fact, the attitude of the party opposite has been formed on this issue. They recommended nationalisation in 1934. They went to the country in 1945 and brought out exactly the same proposal. Having had a majority they claimed they had a mandate. But then they committed what always seemed to me a gross constitutional error. They claimed that the mandate was not just permissive, it was obligatory. Once they said that they were caught; they could not get out. If once they tried to get out of it someone would say to them, "Oh, you are betraying the party programme." And so, laughingly and gleefully, hon. Members opposite declare now that they will stand for ever and ever exactly where they stood in 1934—and theirs is the party of enlightenment.
I have a higher opinion of the intelligence of the ordinary steel worker and of the T.U.C. than hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to have, judging by their arguments.
The divisions in this House are not necessarily divisions of private interest. They mark also two distinct attitudes of mind which we shall always have in politics. We shall always have people who think that the only way to reform is to recast wholesale. There are others of us who think that the better course, even if the less ambitious course, is just to develop and extend this intricate legacy which the past has brought down to us. It is a sense of the greater wisdom of that second attitude of mind—a conservative attitude of mind—that has made me, with origins very similar to those of the right hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition, gravitate to this side of the House.
But there are some moments even more than others when this attitude is the wiser one—when we have dangers outside which press very hard while we are undertaking the work of recasting. That is the situation today. If we leave this Act on the Statute Book, what do we do? We continue a work of recasting which has scarcely yet begun, and while we are doing it our balance of payments crisis will not remain in suspension. Surely, the more practical course is to bring a halt to recasting, to stop venturing blindly into the void and to build again on what is known.
One feature which must be refreshing to all hon. Members is the discovery at last that there is one election pledge which those on the Government benches propose to honour. Since we started the debate on the King's Speech, we have listened to a series of what might be described as "running-away-from-election-pledge" speeches such as has never been known in history in such a short time. It is refreshing to find that at any rate there are two of their election pledges which the Government propose to do something about. It gives one an impression that there is some sense of lingering decency in the Government and the pledges they made.
Therefore, one looks to see why there should be this desire to honour these pledges in particular. Those who listened to the Minister of Supply this afternoon at once got the answer to the question why iron and steel should be de-nationalised. One of the first reasons he gave was that there is a sellers' market in steel. As there is a sellers' market, there is not that compelling necessity to continue a nationalised undertaking or to exercise full Government control as with food and other commodities. But there is a harvest for the steel industrialist, and this allows the Government to live up to one of their election pledges.
All this is very interesting, but we heard nothing from the Government Front Bench today about what will happen to the compensation which has already been paid to the steel barons. According to the figures given by the Minister of Supply today, something like £240 million has already been paid out on taking over these private undertakings. What is to happen to that? Are we to rely upon the open gamble of the Stock Exchange? Arc those who desire to come into the steel industry to make their gamble there? How are we to be recompensed for this £240 million we have already paid out? Or has it gone down the drain altogether, while we still allow this rich harvest to be made?
Another thing comes to my mind. Remembering the debates in this House on this important topic of iron and steel, I recall the Motion of Censure put down by the present Prime Minister against the Government of the day for refusing to hand over iron and steel to the supranational body under the Schuman Plan. At that time the party opposite were quite prepared to hand over the control of the iron and steel industry of this country to this supra-national body, yet at the first opportunity they propose to hand the iron and steel industry back to private enterprise, which is responsible to no one but itself, and to take it away entirely from complete Government control through a nationalised public corporation. It is very interesting indeed to compare these two attitudes.
It was not my real intention to speak on iron and steel. My intention tonight was to examine further the proposals of the Government to hand road haulage back to private enterprise. This is a very interesting position indeed. It has been most interesting to see how, in this wonderful Government of co-ordination, we have a Minister of Transport in the House evidently not fit to deal with this subject, so that they have to bring the Minister for Welsh Affairs—the Home Secretary—to deal with iron and steel and transport, simply because the true co-ordinating Minister is not answerable to this House. It is a very interesting set-up.
What is the position in regard to handing back road haulage to private hands? The Government are running true to form. We have often said from these benches that, if the Tories were returned to power, they would have learnt nothing in recent years but would reflect the same mental outlook to our national problems as they displayed in the years before the war. How true this has been in regard to road haulage.
One remembers those many Acts of Parliament placed on the Statute Book in the years between the wars in an attempt to get some order out of the chaotic condition of our transport industry. Each one of these Measures was just a mere tinkering with the problem. We witnessed a spate of such Measures—the 1921 Act, the 1930 Road Traffic Act, the 1933 Road and Rail Traffic Act, the 1934 Road Traffic Act, plus the 1936 Committee of Investigation and the 1939 Road Haulage (Wages) Act.
These Acts comprise a complete code of Government interference and tinkering, without getting to the real problem of securing an efficient transport system. We have seen all this take place before. How well and how truly are the Government now running to form in proposing to de-nationalise the profitable side of transport and hand it back to private enterprise, while leaving the other forms of transport to be carried on by a nationalised undertaking.
The Home Secretary went to considerable lengths to try to build up a case which he knew did not exist because he was afraid to tell the real truth concerning the reason for the handing back of the industry, which is, of course, that private enterprise may make a rich profit by taking the cream of the traffic. It was farcical for the Home Secretary to talk about preserving the rights of the small man. One has only to look at the history of road transport to see how completely that theory has been exploded.
What do we find when we look at what happened between the wars when all the spate of tinkering legislation about which I have spoken was introduced? We find there were the square deal proposals and the licensing arrangements. We find that there was developing in road transport the selfsame position as developed in the private enterprise bus services. We remember that the small bus services which were instituted up and down the country were gradually but surely taken over by the large monopolies. We find that the selfsame small road hauliers were being taken over or squeezed out of business by the big road haulage monopolies.
As I say, what a farcical position the Home Secretary attempts to put forward today when he speaks about giving the small man the opportunity to re-establish himself. We in the transport industry know this picture far too well. What happened when a small man applied for a licence in order to conduct his business? In pre-nationalisation days all the big road haulage groups and the railway companies co-operated in opposing his application for a licence. He had to go to the tremendous expense of employing eminent counsel and such like in order to establish his case, and even then he had a very difficult job. We see that situation developing even further, and we remember that the road hauliers are contributors to the Tory Party coffers. Naturally, any legislation introduced will reflect their views as much as the views of anybody else.
We remember how in 1946 these road hauliers suggested that they should set up a road-rail licensing sub-committee which would invite applicants to discuss with them their applications to the licensing authority. If agreement were reached, they would not oppose the application; but if agreement were not reached, then they would oppose it. The Home Secretary's hypocrisy on this particular point is farcical.
There is another important factor on which the House should be given some information. Under these proposals to hand over a section of road haulage to private enterprise, what is the position of these hauliers going to be? Are they to be subjected to the common carrier licence? Are they to be subjected to proper rate charges before they can tinker with their prices? Are they to be subjected to the whole gamut of public inquiry, such as now exists for nationalised road and rail transport in so far as charges are concerned, or are they to be left alone and allowed to decide their own charges? In other words, are they to revert to the selfsame position as they were in previously and be allowed to skim off the cream of the traffic?
The Home Secretary attempted to make another important point on this question. He referred to the monopoly powers of the present transport set-up. It really requires some stretch of imagination to bring up anything like that as a real life argument. Out of a fleet of road haulage vehicles of approximately 801,460 at the end of December, 1950, the fleet of the Road Haulage Executive was round about 40,000. Where does the argument about monopoly powers come in?
There was, again, the argument he put forward about permits and licences. It is just not good enough; it is a complete distortion of the facts to put forward the argument he advanced. It is not related to the realities of the situation. The last figures I have relating to the permits of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke show that out of 17,247 applications to the P.T.C. for the extension of permits, no fewer than 11,000 were granted, together with an additional 1,600 hardship permits. Does not that give away the whole game and show what is behind all this?
I sincerely ask hon. Members to decide this issue tonight on the merits of the case. As long as they are determined that the interests of the nation do not count and that private profit for a group of road hauliers is the test, their job is to vote with the Government. Those people who put the interests of the nation first will look at what has taken place since transport was brought under national ownership. They will find that in rail and road transport, and in every branch of the industry, the efficiency and public service which have been forthcoming are at last bringing transport into a position in which it ought to be instead of its being the cat's-paw in the political game played in the years before the war by Conservative Governments.
I rise as the representative of one of the constitutencies in that great steel city of Sheffield. [An HON. MEMBER: "Residential."]. Go to Sheffield and find out. I am very much concerned about the industry there. I speak also as a Member who has spoken in every steel debate on the Floor of this House and also a great number of times in the Standing Committee when the Iron and Steel Bill was being debated.
I find that what hon. Members opposite are saying tonight about putting the national interest first is exactly what I was saying to the then Government on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee. On dozens of occasions I appealed to the then Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) to put the national interest first and delay the vesting date of the Act in view of the position of the great dollar-earning steel industry of Sheffield.
We in Sheffield manufacture special alloy steels which are renowned throughout the world. There are hon. Members representing other parts of the city who will confirm that the industry in Sheffield was looked upon as one of the greatest dollar-earning industries of this country. I appealed to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to say what their policy was on the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Even to this day the Opposition, the then Government, have no idea what the nationalisation of iron and steel meant. All they wanted to do was to grab the shareholdings. Well, they got the shareholdings, and there is no doubt that they were in a difficulty about the Corporation. They had to go outside the industry and put in charge of this Corporation a man who had never been in the steel industry in his life.
That is the sort of talk we get from Members opposite. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham. I would say this in all sincerity. I represent no sectional interest in this House. We are appealing today for greater productivity in industry, and I think that we shall only get that greater productivity in industry by a complete change in the hearts and minds of all sections of our people. I believe that the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham is more likely than any speech that has been made to do harm and interfere with greater productivity—[Interruption.] I am not referring to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd). There are other Members in this House besides him.
I say that with any doubt the Opposition have got themselves into a difficulty. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) may laugh, but I do not think his then Parliamentary Secretary made one contribution during the Standing Committee on the methods to be adopted under nationalisation. The Bill was rushed through the House and Standing Committee. What happened? In such circumstances we get bad legislation. We get a lack of wisdom and thought.
If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said that the Bill to nationalise the industry was rushed through the House and Committee. Are we to understand that if any Bill is introduced to de-nationalise the industry he would consider it right that it should take a longer time to go through the House and Committee than the Bill to nationalise it?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister and his Government have no intention of rushing any Bill through here. [Laughter.] Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), can rely on the wisdom and the judgment of the Prime Minister and the Government to see that any Bill brought before this House receives the fullest possible consideration.
I am one of those Members who believe that if we are to maintain our export trade in the world there are three fundamental principles in this great industry which have got to be fulfilled. The first is that we have got to supply our steel at the right price; secondly, we have got to supply it at the right quality, and thirdly, we have to supply it at the right delivery. If anybody can tell me that the action of the Corporation in getting, rid of eminent directors who have spent their lives in the industry is going to be helpful, then I am sorry to have to assure hon. Members opposite that the future of the steel industry will be black.
It is with conviction that I make my appeal to hon. Members opposite to adopt another line. The Prime Minister has appealed for less party politics. [Laughter.] Of course, whatever hon. Members opposite may say, such an appeal is in the national interest. If hon. Members opposite do not make that contribution, then I am quite satisfied that they will be putting party politics before the interests of the country. There can be no doubt about who put this great industry into the political arena. It was the party opposite, and when we were in opposition we tried to persuade them, in the national interest, to delay the action they proposed to take.
I cannot give way. When we asked them to put the national interest before the narrow political line, the party opposite took no notice of the appeal, and it is, therefore, somewhat audacious for them to talk now about putting the national interest first, for they put the whole industry into the political arena. The tables are completely turned on them—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but I was here and I know the facts. That is why I feel it my duty at all times to fight against this Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps if hon. Members will read my speech when they are quieter, and in their greater wisdom, using what God has perhaps given to some more than to others, they will read the sense of what I mean.
Hon. Members opposite are now appealing for us to put national interest before party politics. The situation is reversed, for it was they who put the industry into the political arena and we are now seeking to reverse the present position and to put the industry back on a proper footing. Hon. Members opposite put it into the political arena. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are you taking it out? "] Of course, we shall take it out. We cannot allow all the mess created by six years of Socialist Government to remain. We have to take some positive action. Hon. Members opposite may not realise it, but we are fighting for our very lives economically in this country. Further, our problems will be intensified as soon as German and Japanese competition is increased. When those days come, many hon. Members may wish they had not tinkered with this industry, if we are to maintain our export market in steel.
I am very glad indeed that the Prime Minister has undertaken to do what he promised to do. I am certain that he and his Ministers will give a great deal of thought towards handling the problem of handing back the steel industry. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite got the industry into such a mess that no barracking in this House will alter the very grave fact that, owing to six years of Socialist mismanagement, we are in a terrible position. That has not come home to hon. Members opposite yet, but it will come home to them. They will find out, in a city like Sheffield, that their mismanagement will need a lot of clearing up. I am glad that the Minister is to give a Ministerial directive to the Corporation. I congratulate him on that, because I think that it is right and proper that nothing harmful should take place in the industry before a well-thought-out Bill can be considered on the Floor of this House.
I said that the Socialist Government had put it in a mess. [Interruption.] I have been too long in this House to be bullied. Hon. Members opposite think that they know everything about everything. Unfortunately, it has taken them six and a half years to find out that we have got so low as we have in this country. I am glad that a board is to be set up and that a certain amount of control is to be exercised in the steel industry. I think that is only right and proper.
I should like, in all seriousness, to put forward this point, and I should like the trade union leaders on the other side to consider it. I think that a great deal of credit would go to them if they would follow up this suggestion: Instead of thinking of nationalisation and having a nationalised mind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—Hon. Members opposite have applauded before they have heard what I am going to say—why do they not get together and try to think out some co-partnership schemes for the industry? That would be a great deal more to their credit than going about preaching class strife and class warfare.
I appeal to the hon. Member for Rotherham not to make any more speeches such as that which he made this afternoon, because he is not putting the people in the industry in the right frame of mind.
I could not agree with the hon. Member more; if he was sent to this House as a comedian, it is the best speech he has ever made. From the comedy point of view, it was first-class. It was not on constructive lines, but on destructive lines right through.
I say with all sincerity that we should strive for a better feeling on both sides of industry, not only in the iron and steel industry but in every industry, because if we do not get that we shall not get out of our economic difficulties. It is for every hon. Member opposite and on this side of the House to do all he possibly can to create a better feeling between both sides of industry. Standing one on one side and one on the other, flying at each other's throats, will not get us anywhere. We must all realise that we have to pull together, irrespective of whether we are at the top or the bottom. I urge hon. Members opposite to try to think on lines of unity and on how they can bring both sides of industry together in the interests of the greater productivity of this country.
I shall be very brief. The Minister of Supply in his speech today did not produce any evidence that the denationalisation of the steel industry will in any way benefit this country. The Prime Minister, at the opening of the debate on the King's Speech, said that what we wanted at the moment was less party strife. That has been the theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) and of the other hon. Members, but no evidence has been produced that the de-nationalisation of the steel industry will be in any way advantageous to the people of this country. When we nationalised this industry it was party strife, but when de-nationalisation is to take place it is not party strife. That is complete evidence of the state of mind of the party opposite.
The people of this country will not accept the speeches made by the Government supporters today. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that this country can only survive if we have increased productivity. If the Minister of Supply or the Home Secretary had been able to show us that by de-nationalising this industry we would have increased productivity, that would have been something. But neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the right hon. and learned Gentleman made that claim.
The decision to nationalise steel was made in the Labour Party's programme in 1945, so that by the time the 1945 Parliament was elected everyone in the steel industry knew it was going to be nationalised. But production did not go down. In fact it increased, which was evidence that the industry welcomed the idea of nationalisation. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite can laugh if they like, but these are the hard facts. In the interval between 1950 and 1951 the industry increased production while hon. Members opposite, who were then in opposition, asked the Government to withdraw the nationalisation proposals. All the evidence goes to show that everything that has been done for this industry since 1945 has increased production.
Before de-nationalising this industry the Government should remember that there is a widespread shortage of manpower. According to the Minister of Labour, there are 400,000 vacancies to be filled. As to coal, the only alternative is the introduction of more machinery, and the fact there are so many vacancies in industry is further evidence that at the present moment the nationalisation of steel should be set aside. Perhaps there may come a time when evidence can be found to place before this House to justify such a step, but none whatever has been submitted today.
At the end of a most hurried and unsatisfactory speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Hon. Members opposite can applaud, but anybody who has sat here all day with the idea of making a speech and then has had to put it into a few minutes cannot find it satisfactory. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but those who have experienced such a rush at the end of a debate must realise the difficulty of it.
We must admit that the Government have the right to alter any legislation or introduce new legislation, but before they do so they have a duty to place before the people of this country evidence in support of such proposals. They have failed completely to do so today, and this debate is to end in the Division Lobby, although we are asked not to indulge in party strife. If this proposal to denationalise the steel industry is carried, I imagine that we will be entering on a further period of party strife.
In a short time we shall be having the first major Division in this new Parliament, and the first major Division upon the Gracious Speech. I should like to begin by reading the terms of our Amendment, and I want to make a comment upon the fact that neither of the speakers from the Government Front Bench have sought to deal with the major point we make in it. The Amendment is in these terms:
But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals relating to the iron and steel industry and road haulage"—
I want the House to note these words—
which will not assist the national effort but will create anxiety and uncertainty in two vital industries.
We have listened to two speeches from the Government Front Bench and neither has sought, in any sentence, to prove that the proposals that the Government will bring before the House will assist the national effort.
As one who was privileged to be a Member of the two Labour Governments, from 1945 until a few weeks ago, I know that we arc all familiar with this very big problem, this battle that we have waged since 1945 for economic recovery and economic rehabilitation, to increase production, expand exports, increase productivity and make this country economically independent. The record of the Labour Government in those fields is one in which we are entitled to take pride.
We discovered during these last six and a half years what the Government will discover now, that the major difficulty confronting us and confronting the nation in seeking economic independence is that, for the first time for 30 or 40 years—the first time in my lifetime—the basic industries of this country are meeting the full impact of an economic crisis, working at full pressure at full employment, and are proving inadequate for the task. We had confirmation of that from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week in announcing the programme of restrictions and cuts in imports. He used these words:
The only ultimate solution must be one of expansion.
The most important materials whose shortage is restricting output at present"—
and therefore restricting national recovery—
are coal and steel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 196.]
That is what we found, too.
The fact of the matter is that for 25 years both those major basic industries upon which our economic survival depends were allowed to drift into ruin and decay. I spent my life in South Wales, where both those industries are very important, and in both of them there is a background of economic decay and technical inadequacy, of unemployment —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course there is, in coal and in steel. Let me give one figure to the House to indicate it. Between 1929 and 1938, 23 per cent. of the blast furnace workers and 28 per cent. of our steel workers were unemployed. During the whole of that period, Tory Governments, with their enormous majorities, kept those basic industries down. The result is that during the war, immediately after the war and now, we have striven to build up the economy of this country to meet all that is involved in this great national effort, with industries that could have been reorganised and re-equipped, but were not, during that period.
If during that time, when tens of thousands of men in all industrial districts were on the road, we had reorganised, rebuilt and re-equipped the coal mining industry, as we are having to now, and had re-organised and modernised the steel industry, we should now have had basic industries which could fulfil the needs of the nation.
The first test which I applied to the proposals coming before us is a test which has not yet been referred to by the Ministers who have spoken. Perhaps the Minister who is to wind up will deal with it. Will he indicate to us how any of the proposals would assist the national effort? Do any of the Ministers opposite claim that the proposal in regard to steel will produce a single ton more steel? Neither of the Ministers who have already spoken has said a word about that. Will the Government's proposals make transport more efficient? Will the proposals in regard to coal, steel and transport bring greater efficiency?
The country is faced with the enormous problem of seeking to get more men. The new Minister of Labour has met the Trades Union Congress and is meeting the trade unions and asking for their cooperation, which I am sure he will get. He is faced with a problem which was referred to in the Gracious Speech and has been mentioned in the Debate. There is a desperate shortage of men. Will any of these proposals, which will throw these industries into anxiety and uncertaintly, induce men to enter them? Will they help to recruit workers? That is the test of these proposals, and, judged by that test, these proposals, far from aiding the national effort, will hamper the national effort by causing anxiety and uncertainty in all the industrial areas.
One would have thought that we should have heard from the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken something about the reasons why it is proposed to make these changes at this time. I will deal first with steel. All parts of the House listened to the very able speech which was cogently argued and convincingly put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who challenged the Minister of Supply to indicate to the House whether the nationalised steel industry and the Corporation responsible for it were failing in their duty.
To begin with, my right hon. Friend indicated to the House that all the time the Bill was discussed in the House and upstairs it was alleged by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the nationalisation of steel would throw the industry into chaos. We have had no evidence of that today. The Minister of Supply has not said that. When my right hon. Friend made statements about the Corporation, not a single one was denied, criticised or even commented upon by the Minister of Supply.
My right hon. Friend said that the change-over had gone through smoothly and efficiently. The Minister of Supply did not deny that. What becomes of the chaos which was threatened? What about the charges that if we nationalised steel everything would go to pieces and there would be chaos? The change-over has gone through smoothly and efficiently, and there has been none of the disturbance and chaos that right hon. Gentlemen opposite said would take place.
Then my right hon. Friend indicated that the Corporation had carried out very many changes, all of them beneficial. One of them, I am sure the Chancellor will be glad to learn, made a saving for the industry at the rate of £500,000. each year. Is that denied? In nine months the changeover has been carried through smoothly and efficiently and the industry is working under nationalisation smoothly and efficiently. Beneficial changes have been made, one resulting in a saving to the industry of £500,000. Therefore, we are entitled to say in this House and to the country that the Government have not made out the case that nationalisation of steel has failed. On the contrary, it has succeeded. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about production?"] Production of steel increased all the time to the end of last year.
Now I wish to deal with the proposals for road haulage. I put this question to the right hon. and learned Member. Will these proposals give a more efficient transport system? I gather that he is to consult with the Commission. I will quote from a Report issued on 15th January, 1951, by the Chairman of the British Transport Commission on this very question of integration of transport, dealing particularly with road haulage services, and ask the Home Secretary if he pits his view against the view of the Chairman of the Commission which has been carrying through the programme of integration. I quote from a statement by Lord Hurcombe on 15th January this year:
The organisation of British Road Services is now broadly complete and 1951 will be a year of consolidation. In under three years, they have merged some 2,900 separate road haulage concerns into a national network, comprising some 40,000 vehicles based upon 1,000 depots and sub-depots, and employing some 75,000 persons. Generally speaking, we claim that this large organisation—the first of its kind attempted in any country—is working smoothly … In the new national organisation. the haulage facilities which if predominantly long distance the Executive were required to take over as they stood, have necessarily been re-grouped and they have regrouped on a territorial basis in a way which did not previously exist … It has been accomplished with virtually no interruption to essential services. It will give traders and manufacturers all over the country the most flexible and easily accessible road transport out of the resources available.
I gathered from the Home Secretary that before any steps about the Bill are taken he will consult the British Transport Commission and Lord Hurcomb. That is Lord Hurcomb's view, that the integration of road haulage has been carried through smoothly, efficiently and is now being organised into a great national network. What the Government are proposing is to dismember and unscramble that. Again, I ask the question, is that going
to help the national effort? Neither of the two right hon. Gentlemen spent a single moment in the course of this debate showing how any of this would lead to more efficient service to help the national effort.
I come to the electoral point. I am not quite sure whether the new Attorney-General happens to be present this evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am very glad. We discussed in the last House of Commons whether my Government—and we are now discussing whether this present Government—had a mandate from the country. Our mandate was secured in 1945 by the most decisive election in this country for many years. Then we had a dispute as to whether the electoral result in 1950 entitled us to go on with steel nationalisation. The Attorney-General spoke on that matter.
I wish to quote what he said. He was asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) on the very point which we discussed during the debate:
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say what was the mandate to repeal the Iron and Steel Act?
My hon. Friend was referring to the election of 1950 and to the mandate of 1950. The following was the reply given by the Attorney-General, and I direct the attention of the Minister who is to reply to what he said:
There is no question of any mandate to repeal the Iron and Steel Act until the matter is put fairly and squarely to the country in such a way that a decisive answer can be obtained …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September. 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1788.]
Has the hon. and gallant Member's party put it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] As a matter of interest, the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), speaking in the debate on the Address last week, said that in Sheffield, the premier steel city in the country, this issue was not at all important.
The nationalisation of steel was in our programme in 1945. We had a decisive decision in its favour from the electorate. We proceeded to implement that programme, as we did all the other programmes we put before the electorate in 1945. I now ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say whether they rely on the dictum of the Attorney-General in the present Government, whether they regard the result of the last election of 25th October as giving a decisive mandate for repealing the Iron and Steel Act.
I therefore say that the Government have failed to answer our charge that neither of these proposals will in the slightest assist the national effort, that on the contrary they will throw these vital industries into anxiety and uncertainty. Let us examine what the Government propose. The first thing is to be a standstill, but the Iron and Steel Corporation will be told that it cannot do anything without the prior consent of the Minister and the Government.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall indicated that in addition to the improvements which the Corporation had already carried out in the steel industry, other plans were not only contemplated but were ready, and these could also be introduced very quickly. We have had no reply as to whether those plans were to be pursued. They are all plans designed to improve the efficiency of the industry and to secure the steel we require. Are all those plans to be continued, or are we to have a period during which there is to be a standstill, uncertainty, anxiety, at a time when every ton of steel and the efficiency of our transport is more essential than at any time in our history?
The Minister of Supply said that he proposed to call into consultation a number of organisations, including the. Trades Union Congress. May I ask this question? Perhaps the Minister who is to reply can answer it. Is the Trades Union Congress, before it enters this conference, to be asked to agree that steel should be de-nationalised? I am not a member of the General Council. I am a member of a trade union, one of the biggest trade unions affiliated to the T.U.C. Is the T.U.C. to be asked to come to the conference to agree with the Government proposal to de-nationalise? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should they?"] Hon. Gentleman opposite do not know what their Government are doing or what they are proposing.
The Minister of Supply said that he was going to ask the T.U.C. to come into the consultation before the T.U.C. had indicated their view very firmly. Supposing they say as I believe they will, that, to hand back the steel industry to private owners and private profit at this moment, at a time when we are carrying out a rearmament programme, would be against the national effort, what would the Minister do then?
We consider that this Bill will raise questions which are of great importance to the labour and to the trade unions in this country. We therefore think that it is right that the trade unions should have an opportunity to express their opinions on this Bill. Parliament will decide the policy. The Conservative Party does not allow itself to be governed from outside. As I said earlier today, the party opposite would be the first to complain if we did not ask the Trades Union Congress for their opinion.
The Minister of Supply has not answered the pertinent question I put to him, which is, is the Trades Union Congress expected, before they come to discuss this matter with him, to declare that they are in favour of the denationalising of steel? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They are not? I say without any hesitation that a proposal of this kind at this moment will create in the minds of all those engaged in the industry anxiety and uncertainty.
The Government have failed to make out a case on the grounds of the national effort. We are told first of all by the Prime Minister that we cannot get the Bill before 6th February; now it is said before 29th January. How long will this Bill take to go through the House? Let me be perfectly clear. We shall fight it word by word, Clause by Clause, at every stage through this House. It is clear therefore that this Bill cannot become an Act of Parliament for 12 months, or 18 months, or two years. That is longer than the present Government will be in office.
I have had a lifetime of experience with the men in both these industries in my own town in South Wales. Let me put what I see to be the major problem in these industries. It is what we have fought for ever since 1945. We have begun a new chapter in both these industries. We have endeavoured to begin a new chapter, to remove all fears, and all the uncertainty and all the memories of unemployment—all the memories of those days.
Let me say this to the Government, to the House and to the country too. I will tell the Government what their proposals have already done. They have revived the old memories. They are rekindling the old fears at a time when all these men—and they are fine men—are being asked to produce more coal and more steel. During all this period we shall have stand-stills, unscrambling, controversies and bitterness back in these industries.
I want to reaffirm what my right hon. Friend said earlier. The Government may carry this Bill. But they will not be there for long. Indeed, they are already on the way out, and when we get back, as we shall, we shall once more do what we did in 1945. The fact is that the reason why they want to de-nationalise steel is for power. That is why they want it, and the country will know what to do with a Government that places privilege and power and profit before the national interest. [Interruption.] We shall take this Amendment to a Division. I say that the Government have failed to show that either of these measures is in the interests of the nation. They were not intended to be. [Interruption.]
I want to indicate to the House and the country that, in our view, these measures have not been brought forward to assist the national effort. I submit that no case was made out this afternoon that either of these proposals will improve the efficiency of these industries. They are brought before the House by those who finance the Tory Party in order to recover their privilege and their power, and, in due time, the country will know what to do with a Government that places profit and privilege before the nation and its interests.
I am conscious that my first appearance at this Box is under rather exceptional conditions. I know that it is the normal practice for a maiden speech at this Box to be given a very fair hearing, and normally I would have made my remarks accordingly, but this evening things have been said that have got to be answered. I shall say what I have to say and will not expect quarter from anybody. I know that the House will give me a hearing, but if I am provocative I expect to be answered.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), sat down with what I considered was a most astonishing remark from a right hon. Gentleman whom I have come to respect. He cast grave aspersions on the integrity of the party to which I belong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which party is that? "] think hon. Members should listen to me. If any individual or party deserves that kind of charge, it is the party opposite. The statement has been made in this debate that the party opposite, if returned to power later, will undo what we may do. Right through the whole question of nationalisation, we have never seen one sign from right hon. Gentlemen opposite of concern for the national interest.
Let me ask them this question. When they come back to power, if they ever do, and they find that the steel industry is producing with the same magnificent efficiency as it was when they took it over, are they still going to re-nationalise it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, why? Let us have no more nonsense about this business of the national interest from right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Let us look at some of the arguments put forward. I watched with great interest for some of the staggering things that were always about to be said in the winding-up speech from the right hon. Gentleman opposite about road haulage, but I could not find anything to put in my notes. There was just the question how far our actions would improve efficiency. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is your action? "] My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made the situation very clear, and I am not going to say any more about it, because he covered the ground admirably.
Let me say what is the first thing which is absolutely essential in order to improve efficiency in the road transport industry. but before I do that I should like to make this clear. In what I have to say, I cast no reflections on the efforts which the Transport Commission and the Road Haulage Executive have made in an attempt to operate what I and my hon. Friends have always believed to be an unworkable Act. I think the Transport Commission and the Road Haulage Executive have done their utmost, but. as we have made clear from the very beginning of the discussions on the nationalisation of transport, we have never believed that the Act could work. We have never believed that the Transport Commission could do the job it was asked to do, and it has not done it.
Let us think again about what were the objects of the Act. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned them when he spoke earlier today, but they are worth rubbing home. The object of the Act was
to provide, or secure or promote the provision of, an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of … transport.
Let us take those objects one by one. Can any right hon. or hon. Member in this House say that we have today an efficient system of transport? Can anybody say that we have an adequate one? Can anybody say that we have an economical one? Can anybody say that we are even in sight of the beginning of that magic word "integration."
I think the general public and hon. Members of this House must be the people to judge whether integration is even in sight. I have still to learn what is the definition of hon. Members opposite of the word "integration." We are still waiting to know. We wondered when the Act went through whether, sooner or later, we would be told. But integration is not there today, and there is still no sign of it coming about.
We believe, of course, that the very essence of an efficient road haulage system must be that intimate, close association between the user of transport and the provider which existed in the past. It really is no good saying, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), said, that if we go around we will find that it exists. There is probably not an hon. Member of this House who has not been told stories—some of which were almost impossible to believe—and who, when he checked up on them, found they were incorrect. I will give the House an example which happened in my own constituency; it might quite possibly be something which could be put right in this particular case. But, in the nature of a great nationalised industry, what is put right here will, we believe, go wrong there, and will continue to go wrong elsewhere. I only propose to give this example because it is a perfect one.
A not very small market gardening firm which used to do a steady trade with Holland through the port of Leith has given it up because, while in the old days before the Transport Act they could get a shipment through from Leith within at the worst 36 hours, after the Act came into operation they could not get a shipment through at all in two weeks. As I say, that is the sort of thing one may get rid of in one case, but how can one expect to get real efficiency in the transport of this country if that kind of thing is happening?
We are quite convinced that it is in the national interest that we should have the most effective and efficient transport system we can achieve. It is quite unworthy to say that we are concerned with profits. The test must always be how we can achieve the most efficient service for the economic life of the nation, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that that will be our objective in all our work with transport. We want to keep what is good where it can be kept, and we will do what we find is necessary as we know more exactly what has to be done.
If we talk about Highland transport this evening, we shall be in trouble.
Before I sit down I must come to another part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelly. He went back to the old story about the steel industry that if only we had done the things we ought to have done in the 1930's, everything would have been lovely. What makes me almost ill is to think that all through the General Election campaign that kind of remark has been made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I am afraid I have said this very often before—that the industry after 1932 set about a very detailed and big scheme of reconstruction. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite know very well that that scheme had to be slowed up and stopped because of the need for re-armament in the 1939 war. I have said that time after time on the Floor of this House, and it has never been contradicted. There was the Stewart and Lloyd integration and the Guest, Keen and Nettlefold's integration, producing two of the finest plants the world has ever seen. There were other integrations to go forward in the steel industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is integration?"] Integration in the steel industry means the process from the raw material to the completed product. Had not re-armament been necessary, it is well known that the industry would have gone a long way further than it did. That is the final answer to the charge the right hon. Member for Llanelly made that more could have been done.
It is quite clear that we are debating this evening something which has been fought over during the General Election campaign as far as hon. Members opposite are concerned. We are convinced that both in steel and in inland transport there is a tremendous job to be done to obtain that real efficiency which must be achieved if this nation is to get through these critical years ahead.
We must get a greater sense of urgency into the transport system—an urgency which can never come under the present arrangement of a heavy cumbersome system. It cannot avoid being cumbersome. That is the difficulty. One could argue constructively about the structure of the Road Transport Commission and the Road Haulage Executive, but as they grow bigger and bigger it is inevitable that that urgency of efficiency must go. We believe the policies we are advocating are right and we shall work for them, and our sole object will be the very best interest of the nation.
|Division No. 3.]||AYES||[10.1 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Donnelly, D. L.||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Adams, Richard||Driberg, T. E. N.||Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Albu, A H.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Edelman, M.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Kenyon, C.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Evans Stanley (Wednesbury)||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Baird, J||Ewart, R.||Kinley, J.|
|Balfour, A.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A.J||Fernyhough, E.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Bartley, P.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Fienburgh, W. J.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Bence, C. R.||Finch, H. J.||Lewis, Arthur|
|Benn, Wadgwood||Fletcher, Eric (lslington, E.)||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Benson, G.||Follick, M.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Forman, J.C.||Logan, D. G.|
|Blackburn, F.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Longden, Fred (Small Heath)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Freeman, John (Watford)||MacColl, J. E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Boardman, H.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McGovern, J.|
|Bottomley, A. G||Gibson, C. W.||McInnes, J.|
|Bowden, M. W.||Glanville, James||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Gooch, E. G.||McLeavy, F.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Grey, C. F.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Burke, W. A.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Hall, Rt. Hon. G'envil (Colne Valley)||Manuel, A. C.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Carmichael, J.||Hamilton, W. W.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hannan, W.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Champion, A. J.||Hardy, E. A.||Messer, F.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hargreaves, A.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hastings, S.||Milner, Mai. Rt. Hon. J|
|Clunie, J||Hayman, F. H.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Cock, T. F.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Monslow, W.|
|Coldrick, W.||Harbison, Miss M.||Moody, A. S.|
|Collick, P. H||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.|
|Cook, T. F.||Morley, R.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hobson, C. R.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Holman, P.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Houghton, Douglas||Mort, D. L.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Hoy, J. H.||Moyle, A.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Hubbard, T. F.||Mulley, F. W|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Murray, J. D|
|Daines, P.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Nally, W.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Neal, Harold (Belsover)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||O'Brien, T.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Oldfield, W. H|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Oliver, G. H.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Orbach. M.|
|Deer, G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Oswald, T.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Janner, B.||Padley, W. E.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Jay, D. P. T.||Paget, R. T.|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Pannell, T. C.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Pargiter, G. A||Simmons, C J. (Brierley Hill)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Parker, J.||Slater, J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Paton, J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Peart, T. F.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Snow, J. W.||West, D. G.|
|Poole, C. C.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Popplewell, E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Porter, G.||Sparks, J. A.||White Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Steele, T.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Wigg, G E. C.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B|
|Pryde, D. J.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Willey, Frederick (Sunderland, N.)|
|Rankin, J.||Stross, Dr. Barnett||Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)|
|Reeves, J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Swingler, S. T.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Reid, William (Camlachie)||Sylvester, G. O.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)|
|Rhodes, H.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Richards, R.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Williams, W T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Robens, Rt. Hon. A||Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Thomas, David (Aberdare)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Winterbottam, Richard (Brightside)|
|Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Ross, William||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Royle, C.||Thurtle, Ernest||Yates, V. F.|
|Schofield, S. (Barnsley)||Timmons, J.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Tomney, F.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Turner-Samuels, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Holmes.|
|Short, E. W.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddinglon, S.)||Carson, Hon. E.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Cary, Sir R.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Channon, H.||Gage, C. H.|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J||Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Gammans, L. D.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Cole, N. J.||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd|
|Astor, Hon. J. J. (Plymouth, Sutton)||Colegate, W. A.||Glyn, Sir Ralph|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Bucks, Wycombe)||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Godber, J. B.|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Gower, H. R.|
|Banks, Col. C.||Cranborne, Viscount||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Barber, A. P. L.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Gridley, Sir Arnold|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Crouch, R. F.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Crowder, John E. (Finchley)||Grimston Robert (Westbury)|
|Bell, P. I. (Bolton, E.)||Crowder, Petre (Rulslip—Northwood)||Harden, J. R. E.|
|Bell, R. M. (Bucks, S.)||Cuthbert, W. N.||Hare, Hon. J. H.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbastcn)||Davidson, Viscountess||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Harrison, Lt.-Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||De la Bère, R.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Deedes, W. F.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Birch, Nigel||Digby, S. Wingfield||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Bishop, F. P.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hay, John|
|Black, C. W.||Donaldson, Comdr. C. E. McA||Head, Rt. Hon. A H|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Donner, P. W.||Heald, Lionel|
|Bossom, A. C.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Heath, Edward|
|Bowen, E. R.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Drayson, G. B.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Drewe, C.||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. B||Dugdale, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)|
|Braine, S. R.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Hill Mrs. E.(Wythenshawe)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Duthie, W. S.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hollis, M. C.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Erroll, F. J.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Fell, A.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Finlay, G. B.||Holt, A. F.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Fisher, Nigel||Hope, Lord John|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Fletcher, Waiter (Bury)||Hopkinson, Henry|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Fort, R.||Horobin, I. M|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Foster, John||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Marshall, Sidney (Sutton)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Maude, Angus||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. Robert (Southport)||Maudling, R.||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L C||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J.||Medlicott, Brig. F||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Hurd, A. R.||Mellor, Sir John||Speir, R. M.|
|Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Molson, A. H. E.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Moore, Lt.-Col, Sir Thomas||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Jenkins, R. C. D. (Dulwich)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Jennings, R.||Nicholls, Harmar||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Johnson, E. S. T. (Blackley)||Nicholson, G.||Storey, S.|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Nugent, G. R. H.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Kaberry, D.||Nutting, Anthony||Summers, G. S|
|Keeling, E. H.||Oakshott, H. D.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Odey, G. W.||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Antrim, N.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D||Teeling, W.|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Orr-Ewing, Ian. L. (Weston-super-Mare)||Thompson, Kenneth Pugh (Walton)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Osborne, C.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)||Partridge, E.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T||Peake, Rt. Hon. O||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Lindsay, Martin||Perkins, W. R. D||Tilney, John|
|Linstead, H. N.||Pelo, Brig. C. H. M.||Touche, G. C.|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. G. (King's Norton)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pilkington, Capt. R A||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Pitman, I. J.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Powell, J. Enoch||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S.W.)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L||Wade D W|
|Low, A. R. W.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Raikes, H. V||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W)|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Rayner, Brig. R||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Redmayne, M.||Walker-Smith, D.C.|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Remnant, Hon. P||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|McAdden, S. J.||Ronton, D. L. M.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|McCallum, Major D.||Roberts, Maj. Peter (Heeley)||Water house, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Robertson, Sir David||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westwinsier)|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Robson-Browm, W.||Wellwood, W.|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Williams, Charles (Torquay)|
|Maclay, Hon. John||Ropnar, Col. L.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Maclean, Fitzroy||Russell, R. S.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E)|
|MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Wills, G.|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Savory, Prof. D. L.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Maitland, Cmdr. J. F. W (Horncastle)||Schofield, Lt.-Col W. (Rochdale)||York, C.|
|Maitland, P. (Lanark)||Scott, R. Donald|
|Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Markham, Major S. F.||Shepherd, William||Brigadier Mackeson and|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Mr. Butcher|
|Marples, A. E.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter|
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.