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 John Jones Mr John Jones , Rotherham 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

The House has listened with attention, as it usually does, to varying types of speeches, including those from the Front Bench opposite. I would at once congratulate my recent chief, on his speech, and the present Minister of Supply, I would tell him that he will find an enormous amount of interesting work to do, and that he will also find that what hon. Members opposite talk about and have promised may become completely different when they have to put their promises into actual performance.

I can promise the new Minister of Supply and the leader of the new Government the full and complete support of the men engaged in the steel industry, with certain provisos, to which I will refer in a moment, and also assure them that every endeavour will be made by these splendid fellows to make a continued success of the industry of which we are so proud.

The Government may ask why I should make that promise, and there is a very simple reason. We shall, of course, be called upon, after the next General Election, to take over again the running of this great industry, and we want to take over the best possible job that we can find, regardless of the fact whether the industry has been de-nationalised or not.

That is a fair promise, and I pledge my personal word—and I believe that my word counts for something in the steel industry—that everything I can possibly do to help them in their most arduous task I will do.

What were the types of speeches which we have heard? We have had speeches from persons directly connected with the ownership and managerial side of industry, and it is to be noted that those hon. Members on the Government benches who speak on the subject of steel do not seek their Parliamentary seats in iron and steel constituencies. They do not fight the battle of steel nationalisation where there are steel works and steel workers; they fight the battle in areas from which the iron and steel industry is most remote.

I must congratulate the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) on his speech, and on his portrayal of the situation as he sees it. He has, like myself, spent some 35 years in the industry, and he knows something about it. I would recommend every hon. Member opposite, and particularly the Front Bench, to read the hon. Member's speech. If the Minister of Supply will act upon it I do not think that he will find much antagonism coming from this side of the House. That speech was made by a practical man who knows the industry, and that is the type of speech that matters.

But what, up to now, has come out of the speeches of hon. Members opposite? There is a very clear indication that the suspicions of those of us on this side have been confirmed: that the new Government will put up with public control, will put up with a certain amount of public supervision, will put up with a form of corporation or board to supervise the industry, but that on no account must such a corporation or board be held commercially or financially accountable to this House. That is the issue at stake. Do not let us try to hide the issue from either the public or ourselves. I know there is some talk about the limitation of dividends for the period of the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "For the period of re-armament."] I am sorry; I am probably prejudging the result of a new Tory Government.

I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). He said that no effort should be made to pay for works which they now know are becoming obsolescent and redundant, that they should be struck off, that they should be carried at the expense of the taxpayer. But he very conveniently forgets the time when, under private enterprise. works were shut down lock, stock and barrel and when the directors and shareholders were continued to be paid profits from the companies kept in being.

I now want to come to the issue at stake, which is whether, at a time of rearmament and when the Government themselves are telling the world at large that never were we so beset, or, in words used in another place, never was the world so disquieted, this great industry is to become once again a thing of financial interest instead of being—and we did it, backed by 14 million people—run in the public interest.

Last week many speeches were made in this House, among them one by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). I have always expected the speeches from that hon. Gentleman to be based on facts. (HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because I have always thought that anyone who found his way to this House through the honest people of Sheffield would at least know what he was talking about. In that speech the hon. Gentleman alleged that somehow political interference had prevented production. Will he now stand up and tell us when and where production was prevented?