Orders of the Day — Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton 12:00 am, 8th April 1970

Do not try to run away from it then. I am perhaps giving the hon. Gentleman and his party the credit, which they do not deserve, of knowing precisely where their policies lead the nation. If they deflect the Government from its policies they must take the responsibility for the result. It is ridiculous to talk about underrating what Mr. Victor Feather and other people have done. If I were a leading trade unionist, I would want increases for my members, and, if the Opposition, which looks upon itself apparently as the next Government, says in this House on 24 occasions that workers who defect from the voluntary incomes policy were right to do so whilst millions of others were obeying that policy, I would want to get on the bandwaggon, and this is what some trade unions did. I do not blame them for that; that is why they are there; but I do blame political parties which bring about the position in which the trade unions can do this.

The incomes policy was never intended simply as a restrictive measure. It was meant to bring, in line with increased productivity, increased emoluments and living standards. The tragedy is that the Government abandoned it at the very moment when it was possible to reap the benefit of the constructive side of the incomes policy, having endured the more destructive side for so long. The legislation deals with the dangers of monopoly. We emphasise the need for maintaining a competitive base under certain conditions.

I hope the House will realise that we are now moving into an industrial and economic situation in which competition plays less and less of a part in certain industries and in which the price one pays for efficiency is that of increased size. I believe we should not try to thwart that kind of development in certain of our heavy industries. It may be we have to accept that they have developed to the point where semi-monopoly may be essential if they are to be highly efficient.

If I am right, there is one question which the nation must answer, and it is a question that is not posed in this legislation. If semi-monopoly is the price one pays for efficiency, what kind of monopoly should it be, private or public? It is wrong that we should now look at the economic and power issues which come from monopoly in the rather confined space imposed by the legislation. I hope that the Government have not turned their back on the proposition that, rather than refuse to accept the need for monopoly or semi-monopoly in certain of our heavy industries, the question about private or public monopoly must again be due for discussion both in this House and in other political spheres.

The work which has been carried out in restructuring industry has given this nation a chance to get back into the top flight of industrial nations. That work would never have been done if we had listened to the Tories describing the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation as "back-door nationalisation" and had heeded their advocacy that we should retain small splintered kinds of industries. Indeed, although they were opposed to the greatest amalgamation which has occurred in years, nationalisation of the steel industry, it undoubtedly has given to that industry in this country the chance to compete on equal terms with the steel industry of any nation. I shudder to think what would be the position of British Steel now if we had not encouraged that kind of practical monopoly.

While I support the Bill, I hope that we shall not close our eyes to the logic of the economic and industrial development we now see in Britain. This party has never looked on public ownership as a dogma. I think we are able to defend that proposition in relation to any industry which we have taken over, whether it be coal, electricity or whatever it may be. Therefore, let us not look for subterfuge or for ways which may be inimical to the best interests of industry. Let us instead look at the question which I have posed to the House and which I hope the Government will take seriously.