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

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.