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

Nothing of the sort. If the hon. Gentleman is not too busy looking up that bad speech he made last week, he will find, according to the figures given in the 1950 Report of the Iron and Steel Federation that the increase in steel ingots is over 3 million tons since 1945.

The issue is not so much how the industry is to be de-nationalised, but for what purpose is it to be done. As I see it, the simple issue is whether in the future the industry is to be run for the benefit of the public at large or returned to private enterprise for the benefit of shareholders? The Government have accepted the fact that coal shall remain for all time nationalised. Why? Because, when it was in their hands, private enterprise made such an unholy mess of it and when, because of the rottenness and evil of the system. men were driven from the industry and swore that their sons would never enter it.

Will any Member of the Government tell me the difference between the geological wealth of coal and that of ore given by Almighty God to this country? There is no difference except for the fact that, on the one hand, they made an awful mess of it, and, on the other, it is now a money spinner and for that reason can be taken back. The steel industry is now a profit-making concern, and, therefore, the previous owners want to take it back.

I would remind the Government that here we have the spectacle of one nationalised industry about to be de-nationalised, which will be almost entirely dependent upon another nationalised industry. The Minister of Supply made it very clear in a speech last week that although we would have to buy a certain amount of coal from India and America we would still be committed to buy ore from Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and so on, and that we should have to pay for it with nationalised coal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Money."] The day of bags of gold has gone. Bags of coal are much more important than bags of gold. We are burying gold and we are not digging enough coal. Let us not forget that. Coal is the vital thing upon which the future prosperity of this country depends, regardless of any Government; and this industry, if de-nationalised, will depend completely upon coal, ore and limestone—all the Almighty's gifts—to create the pig-iron to replace the loss of scrap iron.

The new Minister has a great headache here, among others. He knows that the biggest headache is the supply of raw material to the industry. He knows that scrap is item No. 1. But what was the spectacle we saw in the House not many weeks ago? What happened on these benches at six o'clock one morning during the Tories' harrying and harassing campaign? Those who now ask for co-ordination, co-operation, unification and unity, and so on, had something else to say.

My opponent at the recent election told my constituents, who did not take much notice of him, judging by the result, that there was short-time working because of lack of scrap steel. There is a shortage of scrap steel, but when the Labour Government brought in an order to increase the price of scrap as an incentive—in which the present Government believe—to find the scrap, we had the spectacle of those who are now saying there is not sufficient scrap praying against the order.

That is the kind of thing for which the Tories are becoming renowned. They tell their constituents one thing and do exactly the opposite on the Floor of the House. They are running completely true to form and in exactly the way we expected them to do. However, I am glad to know—I have made notes for my speech, but I find that when I make them there is never need to use them as there is so much to say—that the Front Bench of my party have made it completely clear that in the event of de-nationalisation every penny-piece made above a fair and reasonable profit in this time of economic stress and re-armament shall be taken from those who benefit thereby. That is the one condition upon which my constituents will give of their best.