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 Aubrey Jones Mr Aubrey Jones , Birmingham, Hall Green 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

It was not really worth while my giving way to the hon. Member. I name an example, Sir Arthur Matthews, an expert on the manufacture of specialised forgings, the product of the company from which he was dismissed. Merit or demerit had nothing to do with it. The only thing that mattered was that he had a connection with an interest from which the company was now severed.

To take the question dealt with at great length by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, the question of re-organisation. I bow to the superior knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sorry is not in his place. He explained the re-organisation proposals of the Corporation as being partly functional and partly geographical. According to my understanding the proposal is only fractionally functional and overwhelmingly geographical.

The idea is that the companies shall be grouped according to regions no matter how varied the products they make, and that they shall be placed under regional boards. In South Wales Richard Thomas and Baldwins, sheet and tinplate manufacturers, and Guest, Keen and Baldwins, billet makers, two different aspects of the trade, are placed under the same board. In the past the industry has been organised on a product pattern. In 1936, when the T.U.C. recommended the socialisation of the steel industry, it also recommended reorganisation on the basis of product not region.

What is to be the relationship between this new grouping according to region and the grouping that has hitherto obtained, the grouping according to product? Nobody knows. I challenge the chairman of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. He does not know. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall came to this House declaiming against uncertainty. His very recommendation of this regional pattern was a recommendation for the continuation of uncertainty.

The final question, which has been referred to by more than one speaker, is the division of the industry effected by the Iron and Steel Act. The problem of that Act, which it set at the very beginning, was what organisation or organisa- tions were to view the problems of the industry as a whole, both nationalised firms and the non-nationalised firms. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall never proffered a solution. The Act has been in existence for 12 months. There is no solution today.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the transfer having been effected with smoothness and success. Last summer a statement was issued on the progress of the discussions on this very question, and it ended by saying that discussions of the long-term organisation to be set up continued. There is no solution in sight, and in point of fact no solution is possible. The right hon. Gentleman is the architect of this uncertainty; he has caused it. His very plea this afternoon, a plea for the continuance of the Act, is a plea for the continuation of this state of suspense.

It seems to me that this is the overwhelming reason for annulling the Act, the fact that the preoccupation for 12 months has been with problems of outward form to the neglect of problems of substance. What is to be put in place of the Act? Speech after speech from the other side of the House this afternoon has represented the issue as being one of public interest, to use their phrase, as against, shall we say, private licence. libertine private enterprise.

Are Members opposite so sure that nationalisation has given them the public interest? Have they bothered to test that cliché against the facts? Is it not the truth that in setting up a Corporation which they themselves designated as the automatic interpreter of the public interest hon. Members opposite created an instrument which has in fact proved less amenable to Government guidance than was the privately owned industry?

Nor has any hon. Member or right hon. Member opposite today faced up to the proposal which is before the House. That proposal is not one of a return to a libertine private enterprise. The issue is the continuance of nationalisation or a supervisory board, but not merely a supervisory board as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall knew it. He indicated certain defects of that board. I think that the substance of his argument was that it was necessarily negative in character, it had no positive powers.

Surely the proposal before us is to add certain powers to that board. That is the proposal of the T.U.C. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall has never faced up to this issue. He never did once in the last Parliament, and he has not done it this afternoon. His whole argument, his one reply to this proposal of a supervisory board with added powers, was his interjection, made in the course of the speech of the Minister of Supply—an interjection which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) has made too—that the T.U.C., in recommending this supervisory board with added powers, did not mean it to apply to steel. Do hon. and right hon. Member opposite realise when they say that of what an enormous fatuity they are accusing the T.U.C.?—[Laughter]—they are laughing, but they say, "A supervisory board is a good thing. We believe it to be a good method of public control, but do not use it in the one industry where it has been tried and been successful." What arrant nonsense!

There is a yawning contradiction in the whole argument. Surely as politicians we know how to explain such contradictions. The contradiction is explicable only in this way, that our loyalties impose on us too often a certain public attitude, and our inner mind very often disapproves of that public attitude.