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 Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I ask the hon. Member to read the speech of his own Chancellor of the Exchequer, which will put his knowledge of the economic situation into clearer perspective.

I want to get this point cleared up, because it will be used time and time again in this debate, about the attitude in the steel constituencies to nationalisation. In 25 public meetings I never had a question on the steel nationalisation issue. I had questions relating to gas, electricity, coal and railways. As a matter of fact, at my meetings I might just as well have talked about Magna Charta as about the Act of Parliament nationalising steel which had gone through. If I had known that Parliament was going to be closed down as one of the first acts of the new Government I think Magna Charta might well have been a relevant issue.

Our election addresses in Sheffield have been fulfilled to a very great extent. We concentrated not upon the past but on looking to the future and showing the electors that the Conservative Party's economic policy could never be fulfilled. I think I did it sufficiently well, because I secured an increased majority. My contention is that those who voted Labour voted for steel nationalisation and were a greater number in the country than the people voting for hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I do not for a moment accept the constitutional doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister in the recent steel debate. I prefer the old fashioned doctrine that a new Government should not concentrate their energy upon trying to undo the good enacted by a previous Government. The Prime Minister laid it down that it was not right for us to implement the existing Iron and Steel Act, because we had a majority only in this House and not a majority in the country. Surely, in the name of consistency, how can hon. Gentlemen opposite, in a similar set of circumstances, take the much more drastic step of annulling an Act of Parliament? In the last Parliament we only implemented an Act which had been passed in the previous Parliament.

What is the real position with regard to steel? The country is facing a very severe balance-of-payments problem. If we are to surmount that difficulty, the steel and engineering industries have to make enormous contributions to our exports. At the same time, our economy is heavily saddled with re-armament. Again, the steel industry has to make an enormous contribution if re-armament is to be fulfilled. Yet this moment is chosen by the Government to perpetrate a partisan, doctrinaire act of dogmatism which will not add one ton to the production of steel. On the other hand, it may well destroy thousands of tons of production that would otherwise be forthcoming.

There is no question at all that great damage and disturbance will be caused—this is the fundamental point—simply because it will cause great dissatisfaction among the workers. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are concerned about the future of the steel industry, why do they not cause a ballot to be held among steel workers? They can give university graduates two votes in that ballot if they like and I shall still be prepared to gamble that there will be a majority of ten to one in favour of steel nationalisation, not as a matter of theory but as a result of what has been observed in practice.