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 James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

In a short time we shall be having the first major Division in this new Parliament, and the first major Division upon the Gracious Speech. I should like to begin by reading the terms of our Amendment, and I want to make a comment upon the fact that neither of the speakers from the Government Front Bench have sought to deal with the major point we make in it. The Amendment is in these terms: But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals relating to the iron and steel industry and road haulage"— I want the House to note these words— which will not assist the national effort but will create anxiety and uncertainty in two vital industries. We have listened to two speeches from the Government Front Bench and neither has sought, in any sentence, to prove that the proposals that the Government will bring before the House will assist the national effort.

As one who was privileged to be a Member of the two Labour Governments, from 1945 until a few weeks ago, I know that we arc all familiar with this very big problem, this battle that we have waged since 1945 for economic recovery and economic rehabilitation, to increase production, expand exports, increase productivity and make this country economically independent. The record of the Labour Government in those fields is one in which we are entitled to take pride.

We discovered during these last six and a half years what the Government will discover now, that the major difficulty confronting us and confronting the nation in seeking economic independence is that, for the first time for 30 or 40 years—the first time in my lifetime—the basic industries of this country are meeting the full impact of an economic crisis, working at full pressure at full employment, and are proving inadequate for the task. We had confirmation of that from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week in announcing the programme of restrictions and cuts in imports. He used these words: The only ultimate solution must be one of expansion. He added: The most important materials whose shortage is restricting output at present"— and therefore restricting national recovery— are coal and steel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1951; Vol. 493, c. 196.] That is what we found, too.

The fact of the matter is that for 25 years both those major basic industries upon which our economic survival depends were allowed to drift into ruin and decay. I spent my life in South Wales, where both those industries are very important, and in both of them there is a background of economic decay and technical inadequacy, of unemployment —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course there is, in coal and in steel. Let me give one figure to the House to indicate it. Between 1929 and 1938, 23 per cent. of the blast furnace workers and 28 per cent. of our steel workers were unemployed. During the whole of that period, Tory Governments, with their enormous majorities, kept those basic industries down. The result is that during the war, immediately after the war and now, we have striven to build up the economy of this country to meet all that is involved in this great national effort, with industries that could have been reorganised and re-equipped, but were not, during that period.

If during that time, when tens of thousands of men in all industrial districts were on the road, we had reorganised, rebuilt and re-equipped the coal mining industry, as we are having to now, and had re-organised and modernised the steel industry, we should now have had basic industries which could fulfil the needs of the nation.