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

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The first reason is that the Corporation was created by Act of Parliament and must continue until that Act is repealed.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.