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. 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.