Orders of the Day — Iron and Steel Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1966.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Barber Mr Anthony Barber , Altrincham and Sale 12:00 am, 25th July 1966

—but for the nation it is a return to the shibboleths of fifty years ago. To pretend that the solution of the problems of the steel industry lies in a return to old-fashioned doctrinaire nationalisation is to fly in the face of all the facts, as I shall show. It will impede modernisation and efficiency; it will raise costs and prices; and it will give comfort to our overseas competitors. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that to proceed with outright nationalisation of steel at any time, in the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends, would be wrong, but to press ahead with it at this particular time, when Britain is in the midst of a dire economic crisis and living on borrowed money, is sheer lunacy. I have no doubt that it will help the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at the party meeting which he is having at 6.30 this evening, but it will certainly do nothing to help Britain.

I shall come later to the merits of the proposal, and I shall also state the policy which I believe the Government ought to have pursued, but first I want to say something about the decision of the Prime Minister—because, obviously, it was his in the main—to push forward with the nationalisation of steel at this time. Now there are two factors about the present situation which must be accepted. Firstly, the extent of the deflationary measures with which this Socialist Government have burdened the British people is a consequence of the complete breakdown of overseas confidence in the Government. They are no longer trusted. Whether this withdrawal of confidence is justified or not is a matter which, of course, we shall be debating tomorrow, but it is a fact. Secondly, it is a fact, justified or unjustified, that overseas opinion believes that the nationalisation of steel is a retrograde step which will impair the international competitiveness of British industry.

That is what they believe, justifiably or unjustifiably. And in the dire straits in which this country now finds itself it is what overseas opinion believes that matters. This is what matters. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said: What people abroad believe about us is as important as the truth, especially in relation to the strength of sterling. In these circumstances, to bring forward this Bill today is irresponsible and it is wicked. It is wicked because, the avowed purpose of the Government being to restore overseas confidence, if this Measure had been dropped or even if it had been merely postponed, the package of gloom to which the nation is now to be subjected could have been less stringent.

It is paradoxical that one of the consequences of the Left-wing victory on steel has been the Prime Minister's measures designed to put half a million men and women on the dole. I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are satisfied with their achievement.

The truth is that the Prime Minister, by proceeding with this piece of Socialist dogmatism, has put the cohesion of the Labour Party before the interests of the nation. If I may say so to his face, in so doing he has forfeited any claim that he had to call upon the British people to act in the national interest. As the whole country knows, this is the right hon. Gentleman's pay-off to the Left wing of his party, on whose backs he climbed to power.