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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Thomas Hubbard Mr Thomas Hubbard , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I shall be very brief. The Minister of Supply in his speech today did not produce any evidence that the denationalisation of the steel industry will in any way benefit this country. The Prime Minister, at the opening of the debate on the King's Speech, said that what we wanted at the moment was less party strife. That has been the theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) and of the other hon. Members, but no evidence has been produced that the de-nationalisation of the steel industry will be in any way advantageous to the people of this country. When we nationalised this industry it was party strife, but when de-nationalisation is to take place it is not party strife. That is complete evidence of the state of mind of the party opposite.

The people of this country will not accept the speeches made by the Government supporters today. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that this country can only survive if we have increased productivity. If the Minister of Supply or the Home Secretary had been able to show us that by de-nationalising this industry we would have increased productivity, that would have been something. But neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the right hon. and learned Gentleman made that claim.

The decision to nationalise steel was made in the Labour Party's programme in 1945, so that by the time the 1945 Parliament was elected everyone in the steel industry knew it was going to be nationalised. But production did not go down. In fact it increased, which was evidence that the industry welcomed the idea of nationalisation. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite can laugh if they like, but these are the hard facts. In the interval between 1950 and 1951 the industry increased production while hon. Members opposite, who were then in opposition, asked the Government to withdraw the nationalisation proposals. All the evidence goes to show that everything that has been done for this industry since 1945 has increased production.

Before de-nationalising this industry the Government should remember that there is a widespread shortage of manpower. According to the Minister of Labour, there are 400,000 vacancies to be filled. As to coal, the only alternative is the introduction of more machinery, and the fact there are so many vacancies in industry is further evidence that at the present moment the nationalisation of steel should be set aside. Perhaps there may come a time when evidence can be found to place before this House to justify such a step, but none whatever has been submitted today.

At the end of a most hurried and unsatisfactory speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Hon. Members opposite can applaud, but anybody who has sat here all day with the idea of making a speech and then has had to put it into a few minutes cannot find it satisfactory. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but those who have experienced such a rush at the end of a debate must realise the difficulty of it.

We must admit that the Government have the right to alter any legislation or introduce new legislation, but before they do so they have a duty to place before the people of this country evidence in support of such proposals. They have failed completely to do so today, and this debate is to end in the Division Lobby, although we are asked not to indulge in party strife. If this proposal to denationalise the steel industry is carried, I imagine that we will be entering on a further period of party strife.