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 Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

Not entirely. It is not the slightest use merely providing raw materials from companies owned by the Corporation if they are incapable of exercising any influence on what is done with that steel when it is delivered. There is no doubt that cutting the industry into two separate divisions by the form nationalisation has taken has completely nullified the claims which hon. Members opposite have made for the policy of nationalisation.

On former occasions I have disclosed my interest in this industry and, on technical grounds, I am only too ready to do so again, but I ask hon. Members to accept from me that it will not make the slightest difference what form unscrambling of this industry takes as far as I personally am concerned, because I am not in a position to go back anyway.

It has been suggested that no great harm has been done by those who have controlled the shares that were bought out under nationalisation. Is that really the best that hon. Members opposite can claim; that no harm has been done by nationalisation? In point of fact, considerable harm has been done. The companies have had an immense amount of trouble and worry as a result of the instructions from the Corporation acting —maybe quite properly—as a holding company for the shares, as trustees for the public.

The changing of their accounting periods, the dismissal of individual directors and the provision of monthly balance sheets will not help in the slightest to increase production or increase efficiency. I ask the Minister of Supply to collect copies of the information which the Corporation have asked to be provided by the companies under their control and to consider whether a very large part of that information could not be cut out forthwith, to the great relief of the companies concerned in the matter.

It is not merely what has happened so far that is important, but the very development to which the right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate referred, namely, re-grouping by regions, which suggests the setting aside of the undertaking to preserve the identity and goodwill of the companies in the industry. These will be completely changed as a result of these proposals which are envisaged.

I want to concern myself principally with the changes which will follow from the Government's decision on this matter. There are two main features of the situation—methods by which the policy of the industry shall be controlled and methods by which the financial consequences of de-nationalising will be given effect to. These two matters, general policy and financial unscrambling, require different treatment, different personalities and a different rate of progress for their application, and I hope that the Government will see fit to establish two quite distinct bodies for the fulfilment of these two quite distinct functions.

The first, dealing with policy, will be the board which has been referred to in the party's manifesto and again referred to today, in which I hope the trade unions will play a prominent part. It is not necessary—I would go so far to say it is most undesirable—for that board to be possessed of the ownership of the shares, so there will need to be a second instrument of Government policy which may well be the existing Corporation, I hope with new directors in charge of it. Their task will not be an easy one, but no harm will result if the discharge of that financial function takes quite a considerable time.

In the first instance, there will be many shareholders not in a position to buy back the shares taken from them, even if they want, because their resources will have been deployed in ways which preclude them from doing so. There will be other cases where plants are known to have no future as a result of technical development of the strip mills and comparable plant and it would be quite wrong for the Corporation to try and sell them back to the original shareholders at the take-over price.