Orders of the Day — Steel Industry and Road Haulage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1951.

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Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

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:

  1. (a) any alteration in the financial structure or management of any publicly owned company or of any other company under the control of the Corporation, or
  2. (b) the sale or disposal of the undertaking or any part of the undertaking of any such company or any securities held by any such company."
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—