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 David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course they will have the right. That will be dealt with by legislation. The point I was making was that on coming back into the industry they will then have to submit to a licensing system which will protect the railway companies, the existing hauliers, the Commission and everyone else, and the public ownership will have to submit to the same point. [Interruption.] I do not want to be led into the byway of arguing this at length because many hon. Members have not the same intense interests in this as the hon. Member for Perry Barr.

I was passing to the next point, which was the alteration of the 25-mile limit. That will be altered, but the steps that will be taken and the change that will be made I cannot tell the House today, because obviously there will have to be consultation with all those affected, in- cluding the Commission, the Road Haulage Executive and the private interests that are involved, before this is done.

There has been some discussion on the delay in coming to a decision. I would remind hon. Members opposite that it was in November, 1945, that the right hon. Member for Lewisham. South (Mr. H. Morrison) announced that there would be nationalisation of the mines, electricity, gas and transport; and that steel nationalisation would be somewhat later. The Transport Bill was not introduced until November, 1946, the Electricity Bill until December, 1946, the Gas Bill until 1948, and the Iron and Steel Bill until November, 1948. Even allowing for our right to make party points, the right hon. Gentleman ought not, I think, to make a point of a fortnight's delay in coming to a decision in this matter.

We are all aware of the risk in overhasty action, which could result in some temporary dislocation. Before legislation is introduced, the Commission and the industry, as well as others, will have to be consulted. The general effect of the Transport Act may be evident, but much of the Commission's internal organisation is still a closed book. We cannot, of course, estimate to what extent private hauliers will want to re-enter the industry and take a greater share in it.

There must be a period of delay while these matters are considered. We want to assure the House—my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport authorises me to speak for his special consideration as well as the general view of the Government—that we shall take particular care during this period to see that the flow of transport is not impeded, and we shall not, from a desire for quick action on the lines that appeal to us, take any risk with the general transport interests of the country.

I am well aware that that is the only matter on which the House wanted to hear what I had to say, but I hope they will bear with me when I deal with one or two points which I should, in the ordinary course of events, have kept for a later stage. It does not lie in the mouth of the Opposition to advance the argument that our proposals will create anxiety and misunderstanding. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall took that risk with his eyes wide open to the risk he was taking. The present position of the steel industry was quite foreseeable by him when he insisted on implementing the terms of the Iron and Steel Act. He knew that a General Election was likely, and he knew at that time that the chances of the present result were very strong. He need not have taken the decision which he did, which was also the decision of the Government of which he was a member, to implement that Act, when there was already a majority of two million against it in the country, and it was likely to be succeeded by a majority in this House against it.