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 William Robson-Brown Mr William Robson-Brown , Esher 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

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.