Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [27th May]:
That this House approves the decision of His Majesty's Government to bring forward proposals for transferring to the ownership of the nation appropriate sections of the iron and steel industry with a view to its efficient organisation in the public interest."—[Mr. Wilmot.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)
We had, yesterday, a very interesting Debate. It would be wrong for me to indicate on which side I thought the balance of argument lay, but I would say that a number of very interesting speeches were made, beginning with the very able speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. I listened to my 1000 right hon. Friend with all the greater pleasure because I have known him for some time and have good reason both to hold a high opinion of his abilities, and to be grateful to him for all the kindness he showed to me as my Parliamentary Private Secretary when I was successively Minister of Economic Warfare and President of the Board of Trade in the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill).
My right hon. Friend made out his case in convincing fashion. Certainly he appeared to take a good deal of the wind out of the sails of the Opposition, which gave an appearance of lying somewhat be-calmed in the later stages of the Debate, in a thin House, in spite of the fact that we had been told that this was a most crucial Debate, and that two full days would be necessary adequately to deploy the case against the Government. Half that time has gone, and we have high hopes that the process will go on although, since liveliness is to be preferred to stagnation, we hope, in all the circumstances, that there may be a slight ruffling of the calm waters later in the day. Among the speeches that were made yesterday was one by my hon. Friend the Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) who spoke as a worker in the industry, a qualification solely to be found on this side of the House. He truly said that since 1932, the great trade union to which he belongs, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, has been constantly propagating and advocating the transfer of this industry to public ownership. So they have, and that advocacy has been both constructive and powerful, and has done much to turn bodies of opinion which might otherwise have been undecided and uninformed towards favouring the Government's policy. Since 1932, this task has been going on on the initiative of this great trade union— another illustration of the fact that this is no new topic which has suddenly and mischievously been raised by this new Government.
The Opposition must vote tonight. I hope they will vote against this Motion, otherwise they will be in trouble again with some of their friends. I quote from a great master of English prose:All who are in the battle against the spread of State monopoly, and the crushing of free enterprise, will regard the dismal performance of the Tory Party as outrageous and intolerable.1001 That is from "The Londoner's Diary," from Lord Beaverbrook's evening paper, the " Evening Standard," of 22nd May, and was referring to the failure of the Opposition to divide against the Cable and Wireless Bill. The writer of that article also said:From the party that was once strong, came a demonstration of impotence and demoralisation.I am sure that that will not be repeated tonight.
§ Mr. Dalton
That question should not be addressed to me; I only know that he writes very good English, and that I often agree with him. It shows obviously that Lord Beaverbrook, not for the first time, has put aside party prejudice in the interests of those who aid him.
Before passing to the various financial matters on which my right hon. Friend has, quite properly, committed me to say a few words, I would like to say something about one matter on which he touched in passing yesterday, but on which, I think, the House ought to be more fully informed. It concerns the arrangements which prevail in the great Dominion of South Africa regarding this industry which we are discussing today. My right hon. Friend told the House yesterday that in South Africa the production of iron and steel at the heavier end— broadly the same part of the industry which we propose to nationalize—has been in production under public ownership since 1934, with the South African Government owning the major part of the capital. I notice a tendency among the Opposition when we on this side of the House base arguments upon what is done in this or that part of the Empire, as we often do and shall continue to do, to pick and choose between the Dominions. They are inclined to say, "That is all right from Australia and New Zealand—they are misguided people who have Labour Governments too." " But what about South Africa,"I am sometimes asked, and in the context of this Debate I have great pleasure in answering.
In South Africa, steel production was begun by private enterprise in 1915. It 1002 made very little progress indeed, and up to 1934 the two private companies were producing less than 100,000 tons of steel a year. It was not until the South African Government took over the show, took it in hand and bucked it up, that economic production really started. From 1934, the year of the change in South Africa when the South African Iron and Steel Corporation Limited was set up with 90 per cent, of the total issued capital held by the Government, until the war, and even more so during the war, great progress was made, and I wish to pay my tribute here—and I am sure everyone will agree with me—to the tremendous contribution made by the iron and steel industry in South Africa to the success of our war effort. I am sure this will not be challenged, but if it is, I have the figures with me, since I did not intend to be caught without them.
§ Mr. Dalton
I shall be prepared to give way if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence. When we think of the great exploits of the Army of the Desert which will be for ever associated with the right hon. Member for Woodford, who energised and stood behind the whole thing, and in which many hon. and gallant Members of this House took part, it is important and relevant to say that a very great contribution in arms was made by the South African enterprise to the requirements of those troops. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to disagree with that.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I was about to ask the Chancellor a much more limited question. What are the duties imposed by the South African Government in South Africa at the present time?
§ Mr. Dalton
They are not relevant to this argument. I know that hon. Gentle- 1003 men opposite think that all we have to do to improve the iron and steel industry is to give it more tariff protection. That is what we did before the war, but this is totally irrelevant to this important effort of war production which I am praising, and which I am surprised to find queried from the other side of the House. Either it is or is not true to say that South Africa did a great job during the war.
§ Mr. Dalton
In a moment when I have finished my sentence I shall be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I was saying that I am astonished that there should be any controversy or excitement over the tribute I am paying to the magnificent war service rendered in the form of munitions of war from this socialised iron and steel industry of the Dominion of South Africa, led by the illustrious Field Marshal Smuts.
§ Mr. Eccles
No one on this side of the House denies that the South African steel industry did very well in the war. The point I wish to put to the Chancellor is that, as he must know, railway freights over those enormous distances make the difference between being able to carry on a steel industry there or otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman must also know that these railways are State owned; and further that the freights were changed in order to help the iron and steel industry when it was nationalised. Therefore the industry is heavily subsidised inside South Africa.
§ Mr. Dalton
It all sounds to me like very intelligent Socialist planning. Nor need we stop at South Africa. There is also—
§ Mr. Dalton
But these are Imperial illustrations and I should have thought it relevant to say that what is done well in one Dominion, can be done equally in the Mother Country. Let me cite the case of Southern Rhodesia. Here the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) and I were able to cooperate during the war in facilitating 1004 the development of a State-owned industry in Southern Rhodesia—on a small scale it is true, but with a great future. Out of small beginnings, great things may grow. The right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Supply, and I, as President of the Board of Trade, cooperated at that time to supply plant and other facilities.
§ Sir Andrew Duncan (City of London) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Dalton
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman is assenting to what I am saying, so we may congratulate ourselves that under the Coalition Government we provided plant, for the first time, for Southern Rhodesia. This is another illustration of how in the Continent of Africa, many valuable experiments are now being made, and considerable progress achieved along lines which we advise should be adopted here.
May I return from these Imperial excursions, which do not seem to be altogether appreciated, to the financial aspects of our own proposals? I wish to make two observations on finance in relation to the newly constituted industry which is about to be created here. First, with regard to the interim period and the developments to be undertaken therein. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply said yesterday—and I quote, his sentence so as to emphasise it and associate myself with it—speaking of the interim period and the work during that time:There must be no slackening of effort, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer …. has authorised me to assure the industry that whatever the final method and basis adopted "—he was here referring to the payment of compensation for taking over plants which are to be nationalized—proper allowance will be made in assessing compensation for the results of any expenditure incurred from now onward, on approved schemes of development or rehabilitation.The right hon. Gentleman added:I stand ready to discuss all these questions with the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 857–8.]I also am most anxious to assist, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in this matter, and I would add to what my right hon. Friend has said that I too, shall be most happy to keep in close touch with him and cooperate fully in future with him and with public spirited men in the industry, of whom there are not a few, in 1005 order that we may move forward with the long delayed work of reconstruction and modernising our plants within the sector to be nationalised. I repeat that with emphasis, so that there shall be no misunderstanding or any grounds for mistake anywhere, as to our attitude to the finances for the development period. We are anxious to do nothing and to let nothing be said which could hold back these developments, many of which are rather slow to start with.
Passing in the field of finance to wider long-term considerations, I would say I am most anxious, and the Government are most anxious, that the iron and steel industry of the future, which will be in two parts as my right hon. Friend explained—there will be a public sector and a private sector—shall have available cheap money, a low rate of interest on borrowed capital and high priority in the queue of borrowers. It is just as important to have a good place in the queue as to be able to get something when you reach the shop—[An HON. MEMBER: "I find nothing there."] The hon. Member might not, but I do not think he must generalise too much from what may happen to him. The cheap money policy which we are consistently following has already had such success that British credit now stands on a 2½ per cent, medium-long term basis, and we may go further.
As I have frequently said, this cheap-money policy benefits industry. In the first instance, it undoubtedly benefits the Treasury and the local authorities, but it also benefits industry, both public and private. Everyone gains by having to pay less on loans. Even if that could be generalised to apply to all those who have resort to the private moneylender, they would all be in favour of a cheap money policy. Under this policy, occasionally,. the speculators in gilt-edged may get a rap on the knuckles. That is in order to prevent them doing harm to others. But on the whole, looking to the future financing of the industry, the present level of prices of gilt-edged securities is satisfactory, and the prospects for further future improvement are, I think, good. I shall aim, so long as I hold this office, at giving the benefit of the gilt-edged rate to that part of the iron and steel industry which comes within public ownership, so that a public board shall be able to borrow as cheaply as the Government, and will 1006 have the whole security of the nation behind it, as the Government have.
I shall further aim at giving something very near gilt-edged rate, only a little above it, to sound development schemes conducted within the private sector. Would not that be helpful? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) is doubtful. He is more accustomed to high rates of interest. Really I should not have thought it was necessary to raise doubt as to whether it was to the advantage of private industry to borrow money at low rate. I am astonished that any contrary view should be taken. We take that for granted. This is a perfectly serious proposition, which will be understood by many financial circles, and will be reported widely in the City Press tomorrow. It will be in the " Financial Times "Tomorrow and will be welcomed. We are going to give a gilt-edged rate of interest to all the public borrowings of the nationalised section of the industry, and something very close to the gilt-edged rate of interest on any scheme we approve in what will remain the private section—[Interruption]. I think I had better go on. This is necessary in view of the tremendous arrears in expenditure on reconditioning—£168 million according to the Iron and Steel Federation Report—which it is most essential should be accelerated on a large scale.
With regard to the means by which this cheap money can be carried forward into this industry, I would also draw attention to the possibilities of using—and I shall be quite prepared to consider using them—the facilities in the Borrowing Bill, shortly to return to us from another place, regarding Treasury guarantees on loans for reconditioning industry. In the queue for reconditioning, some sections of the iron and steel industry are entiled to stand in a very favoured position. I think I have made clear the attitude of the Treasury regarding finance for this industry.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
What is the good of cheap money, if the inflationary process goes on as it is going on, and the purchasing power of the pound sterling comes to nothing?
§ Mr. Dalton
If the hon. Gentleman got his way, the purchasing power of the pound would rapidly decline because he 1007 wants to abolish food subsidies. He said so in a Debate the other day. That is not the policy of His Majesty's Government. We are sustaining the purchasing power of the pound sterling through these difficult transitional times, until we get into smoother water, when all fears of inflation will be laid to rest. They are already subsiding. [Interruption.] Certainly they are subsiding, as production is going up. The only simple corrective to an inflationary danger, is that we produce more goods. That our workers are doing today. There is also the necessity that we should conduct our Budgetary affairs with prudence, and I hope the House will agree that we are doing that.
May I say a word, in connection with this question of the increase of production and export, upon the present output of the iron and steel industry? My right hon. Friend yesterday rightly claimed that the industry was doing very well at the moment in terms both of total production and of exports. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not here at the time, but that was the argument developed by my right hon. Friend, in reply to the rather gloomy remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot. I fully associate myself with what my right hon. Friend said about the excellent showing now being made by the industry. That is not in dispute, but I must point out that this excellent showing is being made in a seller's market, which will not last for ever, and which may not indeed last for more than a year or two at its present height. It is, therefore, essential that we should look a little distance ahead, and realise that we cannot face the future in this industry any more than anywhere else, with antiquated and worn-out plant. It may be good enough to turn out a saleable article now, but unless we use these next years to improve the quality of our material equipment, we shall not be able to face the market which will confront us a year or two hence. That is a market which is very full of possibility but will not be a seller's market in the sense in which we experience it now. Let us praise the industry for the effort which they are now making. It is a very remarkable and excellent effort, in terms of immediate production, but let us not ignore the fact that we must lose no time in building 1008 up a better basis of material equipment and modern plant if we are to carry this into the years ahead.
Discussion may turn at a later stage in great detail on this or that section of the industry. I wish this afternoon to make a few remarks on one section only, namely the tinplate section. I select this to make some observations about, because when I was serving as President of the Board of Trade I had a good deal to do with the tinplate section in that industry. I made a number of personal friends of many of those associated with it. I had to study it fairly closely. The natural home of this industry—my hon. Friend the Member for East Swansea spoke about it yesterday—is South Wales, including what Welshmen call West Wales. That does not mean the whole of West Wales, but the western part of the South Wales industrial region, Llanelly and the district around there. A large number of tinplate mills in that area are—I say-it deliberately—a disgrace to their owners. They are nothing better than old junk, and I say at once that we are not going to buy old junk for the State—not "at all.
We shall not pay anything for old junk which should long ago have been put out of its misery and replaced by modern plant. On the other hand, when I was President of the Board of Trade I used to consult the right hon. Gentleman on the matter, because he had a great deal of experience of the industry. I am not saying anything that is not public property here: he was in touch constantly with me about it, though he is not to be held accountable for any decisions I took. However, he was helpful in giving me information of great value.
The discussion at that, time about this section of the industry related to a redundancy scheme. A number of these old tinplate mills were, admittedly, of no use for anything, and there was a plan for paying to make sure that they would never try to produce tinplate any more. That was the essence of the redundancy scheme: the owners were to be paid not to produce tinplate again. A large section of the industry was dying on its feet; it needed so deep a burial under the earth that there would be no chance of the ghost ever walking again. The only relatively new modern plant in the whole region was that at Ebbw Vale, about which much has been said; the rest were 1009 plans for new plants or airy talk about new plants. When those representing the industry came to see us, and to ask for a certificate, which, as President of the Board of Trade it was my duty to give if I were satisfied that the scheme was in the general interests of the industry— and the sole purpose of getting my autograph was to obtain a modification of E.P.T., otherwise they could have gone ahead without it—I refused to give it, until I was satisfied on three points.
I will tell the House briefly what these three points were, because they have a great bearing on the future handling of this industry. The first point was that I should be assured that the industry really had complete plans for modernising their plants, and putting up a new hot strip mill in South Wales. I emphasised "In South Wales " because we only got the Ebbw Vale plant established after insisting upon this, and there was an inquiry set up by the Iron and Steel Federation who thought it much better to move the plants out of South Wales altogether, leaving South Wales derelict, and setting them up in some green fields in Lincolnshire or Northampton. I said that as long as I was President that would not happen, even under a Coalition Government. Therefore, the first reform we had to get was that the new plants were to be put in the proper place for tinplate plants, that is in South Wales. The second point was that of any sum of money collected for the owners of plants which were of no use, but which it was desired to put out of their agony, part should be set aside for payments to elderly workers who might be displaced by technical changes, and that this plan must be devised in full agreement with the trade unions concerned. The third point was that if shareholders of these derelict tinplate mills were paid off, we should use our best efforts to secure that the money should be reinvested in new industries in the Welsh towns where the tinplate mills were situated.
On those three points, I wish to say that I found the chairman of Richard Thomas, Mr. E. H. Lever, most businesslike, most cooperative, and most helpful, and it is not his fault that things have gone so slowly. He is an outstanding figure amongst the younger men in the industrial world, and in these discussions he was most cooperative. But what about the new hot strip mill? It was not 1010 until we got the merger of Richard Thomas and Guest, Keen, Baldwin that they could make up their minds to dispose of jealousies as to where it should be sited, and not until we got this further advance towards unified control, and the contending capitalists agreed where new plants should be put, could we get a decision about Port Talbot which, on merit, I regard as a good location.
This illustrates the state at which the industry has arrived. Long ago it left competition; now it has arrived at what I might call imperfect competition, with a small number of quite large concerns not very harmoniously related one to another, and with a good deal of jealousy which results in the delaying of decisions and sometimes may result in wrong decisions. We were most anxious that the hot strip mill in South Wales should be proceeded with rapidly, and when Mr. Lever came to see me, I told him frankly that I had no hope, before the merger, of the tinplate industry getting a move on, until it had a unified executive, with one man or one board taking the decision, instead of all this eternal talking backwards and forwards. I went on to tell him—this was in the days of the Coalition Government—that I would do anything I could to back up this merger, because, at any rate, it would give us a decision. Then I went on to tell him that if ever there was a Labour Government in this country, I was sure that Government would insist on the unified structure which it was necessary to create for the sake of efficiency and decision, and that any industry which was no longer capable of private efficiency should come into public ownership and control. What I said to him then, appears to be coming true now.
We have had, on the whole, a surprisingly unexciting Debate so far. It might indeed seem as though the heart had gone out of the Opposition. However, those who look back on this Debate hereafter, will note that it is an historic moment at which we stand. Here we are at the moment of the passing of a great industry from private to public hands. In the progress of the Socialist advance, we have now got past the first lines of banking and public utilities and transport; the advance is now entering upon the key regions of the heavy industries, first, coal and now iron and steel. This is a matter which should be democratically debated in the 1011 House, and voted upon, but when the future looks back upon it, it will be regarded as an historic mordent in the evolution of this country. Tonight, after the vote has been taken, I am quite confident that all the patriotic and public-spirited men in the industry will accept the democratic verdict, and that they will cooperate with His Majesty's Government in carrying it out, in such a way as will be in the best interests of the community at large, and of the industry itself.
Before concluding, I would pay a tribute to the right hon. Member for the City of London who is to follow me. The right hon. Gentleman is a great Socialist executive—I am not joking at all. When the history of these past years is written, the work that he did as chairman of the Central Electricity Board will be very emphatically underlined. It was a great new venture. He ran a risk in becoming chairman and taking charge of it. He conducted it with great energy and skill. He planned and created with his advisers the electric grid; he also brought about a number of improvements in the generating stations which the grid links. Without this fine piece of practical Socialism— which is what the grid is—it is doubtful whether we could have carried on the war as we did. Without this assurance of inter-communication between generating stations which from time to time were hit by enemy action, it is doubtful whether we could have carried on as we did. It is quite certain also, that we could not, without it, have faced the future with any confidence in the field of electrical development. I hope and believe that in history this Socialist grid will be associated with the right hon. Gentleman's name. I hope we shall call it "The Duncan Socialist Grid "—why not?
From the Central Electricity Board the right hon. Gentleman went on to the Iron and Steel Federation, indeed, he was in some measure the founder of it. Then, doubling the parts with great skill, he went on to the Board of Trade and to the Ministry of Supply in the war, and there again he made a very conspicuous contribution at the Ministry of Supply, in particular towards organising the production of munitions. He did that, and we are all very grateful to him for it. But what was it that had to be done to lead up to that? What he did at the Iron and Steel Federation in the years before the war. He found 1012 a jumble of more or less efficient, more or less competitive units. He welded them together into a single, regulated, monopolistic combination. That is what he did. He took them half way along the road to Socialism. He led the industry, by great organising gifts, great initiative, great energy and great imagination, into a situation in which nationalisation became inevitable by a Government with the courage of their convictions and clarity in their minds. I ventured to quote once before, and the House must allow me to quote again, Karl Marx. One of the things Karl Marx said was:
Capitalist combination is the sure pathway to Socialism.And so it has proved. We intend to continue the work which the right hon. Gentleman so well began. If we left it half way, we should not have got anything better than the corporative State, a link-up of a Government Department and a bunch of employers. In the corporative State, the workers and public are left out on the mat. Under this scheme, we would have had the same people operating, at one hour of the day in Shell House, and at another hour in the Ministry of Supply, labelled in the morning Iron and Steel Federation, and in the afternoon, Iron and Steel Control, and sometimes holding committee meetings in the same room. That kind of combination is not defensible, nor can it be durable. It is a stage which has borne certain short-term fruit and paid short-term dividends, not in the narrow sense of the term, but in the larger sense—as a contribution to the war and to the peace.
We must move forward at this stage and I desire as we move forward, and before the Debate ends, to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman in the terms I have used very sincerely, for what he has done. In what he has done, he has ripened this industry for nationalisation as the sun ripens peaches on a wall. I am deeply grateful, and shall be deeply interested in what he has to say.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Sir Andrew Duncan (City of London)
My first duty to the House, in taking part in this Debate, is to disclose what has already been revealed, namely, that I hold an official position as independent chairman of the executive committee of the British Iron and Steel Federation. My second duty is to thank the Chancellor for the kindness with which he has 1013 tried to describe me, and I hope he will not think me ungracious if I express the hope that I have not deserved his praise a bit. To me, it would be a sorrowful state in which to find myself, if I were to accept his description as in any sense a true description, either of the services I have rendered, or of the motive for which I have rendered them. I hope also that what he indicated will not be the result of that service.
This Motion declares an intention and states a purpose. The purpose it states is that in the public interest the efficiency of the iron and steel industry should be achieved to the fullest extent. With that purpose no one in any quarter of the House, and no one in any part of the industry, would find fault. When we come to the means by which it may be achieved, there is, of course, a fundamental difference of view. There have been attempts to cast prejudice upon this industry. I was most sorry—more sorrowful than angry—to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply yesterday should have descended, as I felt it, to an after-lunch gibe at the iron and steel industry. I make the claim, which could be sustained, I feel sure, by all those in the House or out of it, who have had contact with the iron and steel industry in whatever part of the industry they have worked, that this industry is one of the best examples we have of a development of which we are very proud in Britain, namely, a public spirit developed in industry.
In this industry there has been no conflict for over 40 years. There is no labour friction here, such as the Minister of Fuel and Power had to describe in another industry with which he was recently dealing in this House. In spite of depressions and wars, throughout that period of 40 years, the leaders have established and preserved a cordial relationship and a policy of fair play which is the envy of very many other industries in this country. Nor is there ever any lack of coordination or cooperation amongst the firms in the industry. In one breath the Chancellor told us that they all speak with one mind when they are told what to say, and in another breath he told us that behind each other's back they have something different to say. That that is completely false, is evidenced by the fact that this Report which is now published as part of the White Paper—and it is a very 1014 remarkable fact that it should be so—is a report prepared by the industry as a whole, setting forward a national scheme interweaving within that scheme propositions in respect of a great many diverse products in an inter-related whole. There is no other industry in the country, so far as I know, today which could prepare a national scheme of that kind. The House knows perfectly well that in a scheme of this kind, prepared for what has to be achieved in five to seven years, there can be nothing completely final. Full efficiency in an industry of this kind—a mechanised, engineering, technical, industry—must always remain a relative term and at the end of five or seven years there would be need for still more progress, reconstruction and development.
I do not propose to dwell too much on the past. Enough of the past was covered in the Debate yesterday. But I am bound to ask the House to remember something of the history of the iron and steel industry. Right up to the beginning of this century this country was predominant in iron and steel. The development of the American and European industry took place at a later stage than the British development, and they learned greatly from our pioneering experiences. But they developed and expanded within sheltered markets, which were an expression of economic nationalism. In the '20's and early '3o's, like all other British industries, amongst the other misfortunes we had to bear, and over which we had no control, was that of severe dumping from other countries which had built up their industries within protected markets. So, in 1932, the Government of this country adopted a system of protection.
The old industries in Britain which had led the van in their day, once more had an opportunity of resuscitating themselves on a basis of greater stability than they had experienced over the last 20, 30 or 40 years. The iron and steel industry at once set about putting its house in order. In a number of years prior to this, they had had to write off £$o million or £60 million capital. The return on capital in the industry for 10 or 15 years before did not average more than 2 per cent., a totally impossible position to continue.
In 1933 it set about putting itself in order, and embarked on capital expenditure, which between 1935 and 1939 1015 amounted to £50 million. That put this country in the position, at the outbreak of war, of having a number of steel plants that were as good as anything in the world at the time. That, along with the other reconstruction that had taken place in the industry, contributed to the possibility of this industry engaging itself—all sides of the industry, workmen as well as management—in the war effort, to which the Minister of Supply paid such tribute yesterday. I would like, if I may, to associate myself with all he said yesterday about the war effort of this industry.
Besides building up its plant, this industry organised itself, and I would like to say a word about its new central organisation. This was built up, from 1934 onwards, under the guidance, and also under the continuous supervision, of a Government agency, namely, the Import Duties Advisory Committee. It has had what the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council has called in another connection a due amount of public guidance and a due amount of public-accountability, because the Import Duties Advisory Committee reported regularly to this House. I would ask any hon. Member who has any doubt on this subject to read the Report of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, Cmd. 5507, which was presented to this House in 1937. Any fair review of what is written in that Report would reach the conclusion, I suggest, that this industry was demonstrating that it was a progressive and a public-minded industry.
The central organisation had several things to develop. Let us face quite frankly the fact that one of them was orderly marketing, and that orderly marketing proceeded on a stability of prices. I do not know what will happen under a Socialist commonwealth. I do not know whether, when so many plants are owned, each will be running at different prices or not. I doubt it very much. Under our system we built up orderly marketing, which did two things: it prevented the buyer from exploiting the seller when things were depressed, thus emphasising still further the depression spoken of yesterday by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones). It also protected the buyer from exploitation from the seller when things were busy, as they are now.
1016 The important thing in all this is how the system works. This system was overlooked and regulated by the Import Duties Advisory Committee. Prices were related to costs of efficient plants, not inefficient ones. Upon that basis the Import Duties Advisory Committee kept upon this industry a steady pressure for reduction of works costs for improvement in service and quality. What is there in the whole of the business field that is of more value to a firm or country than giving good service, and selling by good service and by good quality? What is the value of goodwill? What is goodwill? Goodwill is nothing more than just a knowledge on the part of one's customers that if they place an order with one it will be well executed. This industry has built itself up primarily on goodwill and a stable price policy.
It is also charged against this industry that it entered into an international cartel. Let us see. It was certainly the last of the European industrial countries to associate itself with the European cartel. The industry did that in 1935, with full Government knowledge and under Government guidance. There was the White Paper, Cmd. 5201, of 1936, submitted to this House, setting out the whole of that international agreement. There was nothing secret about it. What did the agreement do? It regulated the Continental dumping of imports into our country, a practice which had been persisted in in spite of tariffs. It also gave this country a fair share in the world's markets. These were matters of quite inestimable value to this country. Section 6 of the Finance Act, 1936, was framed in order to make this international agreement possible. There has not been, in the whole of this matter, any secrecy of any kind or any going behind the Government. Everything has been done with full Government approval.
The organisation was designed to do something more than all that. It was designed to view the problems of this industry as a whole, in particular to develop collaboration with the main consuming ancillary industries for the purpose of facilitating standardisation and programming orders between the consuming and the producing industry which in the end makes for manufacturing efficiency. Already the collaboration with some of the consuming industries has 1017 brought both to them and the steel industry, and therefore to the country, tremendous gains in flexibility of working. The organisation was charged—and this is very important—not only with overseeing the efficiency of the industry from day to day. It was charged with the responsibility of initiating schemes of reconstruction and development. That is how it happened that when the Coalition Government, looking forward to postwar activity, invited this industry to submit plans for a period of from five to seven years, the industry was in an immediate position to frame a policy and a programme. Nothing could have been of more value.
We have heard what the Chancellor said this afternoon about the need there is for push, the need to get on. Could this have been done had there not been a plan ready to get on with? I suggest that this organisation which has been built up has put this country, so far as iron and steel is concerned, into a position where immediate reconstruction can take place. There has been no major challenge to that plan. I listened with the greatest care to the speech of the right Son. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, and also to the Chancellor today. I find no challenge anywhere to this scheme. It is quite true that the Minister of Supply yesterday would have liked to frame a challenge, but he did it in a kindly and a half-hearted way. He gave the profits for the years 1934 to 1938, out he did not say that in the case of two of the three firms whose gross earnings he was quoting, they had not earned or paid any dividend at all in 1934. What was the use of giving the House yesterday careful comparison of gross earnings between one period and another when there was no question of the payment of dividends. There was also a grave error in his suggestion that it was wrong, somehow or other, for this industry, in this Report, to look for priorities. I looked to see what priorities had been asked for This is what had been asked for.Appropriate priorities—.I think someone connected with this Report must have been associated too long with Government service in using the word "appropriate."—for the provision of plant and construction facilities at home, ….We cannot get plant or construction 1018 facilities without licences, and, therefore, without priority. That is all that was asked for. You do not nationalise an industry because it asks for such priorities. If everyone who has to ask for a licence today is under the threat of nationalisation, business will come to a standstill. Likewise, there is no question of this industry having asked for money or having need to ask for money from the Government. There is nothing in the Report made by this industry which implies that they are in any need of asking the Government to find money for them. This industry makes it perfectly clear that at least half the amount to be found can be found from their own resources; that is apart from resources that may come into their possession, if the collieries that are taken over are paid for in negotiable securities. There is the other half. Are we to have to confess that as a result of the guidance of monetary policy by the British Government it is quite impossible to raise in the City of London £11 million per annum for reconstruction in one of the most important basic industries? The Chancellor said nothing at all today except, "Don't bother looking elsewhere for money. In fact, don't bother about the property at all, because we are going to take the property and we are going to find the money"
The third point is the question of unity. I think this was perhaps as flimsy as the other two. The Minister of Supply did suggest that this scheme could not be carried out or, at any rate, the Government could not rely upon it being carried out, because there was not enough power within the Federation to have it carried out. The industry is charged on the one hand with having too much power and on the other, when it suits the Minister, with not having enough. We shall see what there is in this charge. The Minister quoted three firms and said these firms had objected to the plan. I have a telegram from one of the firms. I would not read the telegram but for the fact that they say they have sent a similar telegram to the Minister of Supply and to the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Willey). This is what they say:Telegraph today reports Wilmot saying yesterday 'Skinningrove had announced that they could not accept the plan.' This incorrectly represents our attitude. We have not objected to plan. It embodies developments at Skinningrove formulated two years ago by company itself. We object only to 1019 prophecy that no permanent future can be seen for this works since we confident we can maintain high comparative efficiency. Future possibilities can be tested only in light of experience over a period of years. Am telegraphing Wilmot and Willey similarly.Really, it was stretching things much too far. I cannot believe the Minister did not know exactly what was the purport of the letter, but I must assume that he did not know and I do assume that. I suggest, however, that he should have known before quoting it in the House. This plan—
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. John Wilmot)
I really must ask the right hon. Gentleman to quote me fairly. I said I had received a letter from the secretary on behalf of the Skinningrove Iron Company, and the right hon. Gentleman asked me to read it. I read it and I have it in my hand now. I am willing to read it again. It said exactly what I read out to the House, and I made no further comment.
§ Sir A. Duncan
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD, he will find that this is his introduction:It has already been announced by important companies such as the South Durham Steel and Iron Company, the Cargo Fleet Iron Company and the Skinningrove Iron Company that they cannot accept this plan."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May. 1946; Vol. 423, c. 850.]Now, words seem to mean very little when we come to many of the terms that are used in this connection; but that can mean one thing only, and the telegram that I have read to the House contradicts the Minister's statement.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to read this part of the letter again? I will read the whole of the letter:In the recent White Paper on the Iron and Steel Industry reference is made, under the heading of modernisation and development proposals for the North-East Coast,' to the Skinningrove Iron Company, Ltd. In this connection we wish to draw your attention to the implications in the report as to the future of these works. We have to state that we entirely disagree with the implications and the Chairman of this Company, Mr. R. Mather, has already written to the British Iron and Steel Federation under date 3rd April, 1946, to this effect.That is the letter I read to the House.
§ Sir A. Duncan
Of course, that is the letter that was read to the House. That is the letter that was received; but what does the letter say?
§ Sir A. Duncan
Well, I am going to tell the right hon. Gentleman what it says. The letter says they are full parties to the plan but they do not accept the implication, for instance, that when the next plan comes on it may be that Skinningrove might have to go out. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman, if he had read this report carefully—as no doubt he did—should have known what was the implication that was referred to. In regard to the other companies, the South Durham Company and Cargo Fleet Company, they have two works. With regard to the Cargo Fleet Iron Company, as the chairman of the company announced, they are prepared, and always have been prepared, to join in cooperative arrangements. Their objection to this plan is that they are not being permitted to make certain extensions and incur certain expenditure at their West Hartlepool works, which they think they should be allowed to do but which they say the expert advisers of the industry do not think they should do. Important as it is to them, it is a small item on the fringe of the whole picture. So far as the plan itself is concerned, it can be carried out 100 per cent, by the firms who have subscribed to the plan. The suggestion, therefore, that there is no unity, goes completely by the board.
I do not want to over-emphasise this at all, because, after all, I recognise that the Minister of Supply was really trying to make a few observations about the Report but he was not fundamentally objecting to the plan in the Report—
§ Sir A. Duncan
It is enough for my purpose, therefore, that the plan in the Report has not been challenged. That makes me ask the Lord President, if I may, to say what exactly he meant when on 19th November he said in this House:The Coalition Government invited the iron and steel industry to submit a Report on the improvements required to put the industry on an efficient operating basis. The Government propose to await this Report, which is expected shortly, before taking final decisions on the future organisation of the iron and steel industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 35.]1021 I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I am not entitled to assume the truth of what I am about to say. I have met no one in any section of the industry who did not assume that that meant that if we were able to submit to the Government a plan which was broadly acceptable as a plan, we would be left to carry it out as an industry, under such public supervision as was necessary. If that was not the meaning, I ask what was meant by the Lord President when he said further, on the Second Reading of the Coal Bill:It may be that when we come to electricity, or gas, or transport, or—if we do"—and he held up his hands at that—or if we do—iron and steel …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 970.]That showed quite clearly, I suggest, that the country was entitled to expect that this Report would be viewed by the Government from the point of view of whether or not it fulfilled the purpose of this Motion, namely, to bring this industry into a high state of efficiency. I claim that it is admitted by the Government that the Report does that. That being so, I suggest that we have to look for other reasons for the course of action that is being taken today. What those other reasons are, I must leave to others to say. I am very much more concerned about the industrial implications of this policy.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
How does the right hon. Gentleman account, in view of what he said, for the report contained in a local paper which was made by the chairman of the South Durham Iron and Steel Company and which states:We have continuously opposed the Federation proposals as affecting our works, which were entirely contrary to the schemes of reconstruction previously submitted to the Federation.I think that itself tends to substantiate the case made yesterday by my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir A. Duncan
We must not confuse things. I was talking, first, about Skinningrove, and, in the second case, about the South Durham Company. I distinguished between the two works of this last company. That at West Hartlepool is what the hon. Gentleman refers to now. The company is, as I described it, prepared to take part in the scheme 1022 in so far as Cargo Fleet is concerned on proper cooperative arrangements.
This country has been built up as an engineering and manufacturing country over a very long period of time. It is true to say that there is a very substantial quantity of steel that must still be produced in small quantities and special qualities, in different sizes and shapes, because of the demands of industry, but the whole trend has been towards integration. The scheme which the industry put before the Government is one which provides for integrated plants fully loaded. There are 1,750 firms in the iron industry and over 500 in the steel industry and I do not believe—the Minister of Supply will correct me if I am wrong—there an; more than half a dozen firms, if that, who can tell, after the statement made yesterday, whether they are in for nationalisation wholly, in part, or not at all. So far from clarifying the situation, it has made it more confused. We are now away from appropriate sections of the industry; we are now further on. We are in sections of the industry, and firms in sections of the industry. I suggest that if the Government are really in earnest about getting a rehabilitation of industry, they must reconsider where they stand in this matter. There could be nothing more important.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would say that I do not follow how the situation is less clear after the fairly definite statement made by my right hon. Friend yesterday than it was before. If the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to say how it is less clear, and show that the implication would have been better if my right hon. Friend had not said what he did, it would be helpful.
§ Sir A. Duncan
In my opinion, quite frankly, it would have been much better if the right hon. Gentleman had not said what he did yesterday. I propose to give the reason because it is no use my saying that unless I have a reason. The right hon. Gentleman said:Now, I propose to tell the House which sections it is proposed should be brought into public ownership, subject, of course, to the possibility of excluding some special individual plants where conditions are exceptional."—everybody always claims that they are an exception when they want excluding— 1023We think it tight to start with the iron ore, and with those coke ovens which were omitted from the coal scheme as being associated with steel works. We should also take over the manufacture" of pig iron, and the manufacture of steel ingots from pig iron or scrap. We must include the primary or heavy rolling sections of the industry since steel smelting and primary rolling are essentially one industry, operating a continuous process. Beyond this, there are various other finishing operations "—this is the important part—some of which are so closely integrated with the actual iron and steel making as to be virtually one process. We intend in such cases to include the whole plant. In other cases, the finishing processes are more easily separated, and are often carried on in separate or independent works. There we intend to review the field, section by section and firm by firm, in consultation with the industry, before deciding on the exact boundary in each particular case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Monday, 27th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 853–4.]There are so many qualifications—I am making the point quite seriously for the consideration of the Minister of Supply—that it is extraordinarily difficult for any firm today in the steel industry, except for half a dozen or so, to say whether they are in in part, in altogether or out altogether. That is a very serious situation at the present time.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I want to be clear about this. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is complaining that my right hon. Friend made what was a pretty broad and clear definition, which he was pressed to give, or whether he is saying that it would have been better had my right hon. Friend not responded to the pressure of the Opposition to make an attempt to define the field over which he proposed to operate. Is the right hon. Gentleman complaining because the Opposition pressed for this explanation?
§ Sir A. Duncan
I am making a practical industrial point. I am gravely concerned about the risk we are going to run in the hold-up of development. After all, the Government are as interested in the industrial and commercial recovery of the country as is any citizen in it, and I should like to help rather than hinder that movement. I say, therefore, that the 1024 situation, at the present moment, is a very confused one. It is a great pity that this issue has been raised. I should not have thought it necessary to raise it at the present time, for reasons which I will give. Whatever ingenuity is applied to this surgical operation, which is a dismemberment of the industry—almost a disembowelment—it is bound to create dislocation for some period. Whether, if the Government succeed in their policy, all that loss can be made up later, is a matter of speculation, but, for the present, undoubtedly, there must be dislocation. In addition to dislocation we are doing a most serious thing. The whole industry has been reaching forward towards a national plan and towards modernisation with order in its development We are now driving the industry back to think of the valuation of its properties and how it can preserve its assets and liquid resources. Who is to say that trusteeship shall be forgotten and that the industry is not to think of these things?
We are not only doing that, but we are discouraging planning in every other industry as well. That is a grave thing at the present time when the country needs reconstruction. I would have expected the Government to resist the temptation to push the issues further than is necessary in a matter of this kind. They are fundamentally altering the basis on which the industry has organised itself to undertake responsibility for carrying out these schemes, and I fail to see how an industry can be expected, blindly, to associate itself with a venture which it believes is going to be not only damaging to itself, but damaging also to allied industries, and fatal to the recovery of the country.
There are two things which the Government could have done in relation to this industry which calls for much more immediate pressure than an issue of this kind. I refer to coal prices. Pithead prices in this country are £2 a ton as compared with 12s. 6d, in America. At two tons of coal to a ton of steel, the pithead price of coal here is £4 per ton of steel against 25s. in America.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say if it is the case that the hourly wage rate of the steel worker in America is double that of the British worker?
§ Sir A. Duncan
I could not say that it is, if I were comparing like with like, 1025 We all know that the wage rate in America is high, and the standards of living and expenditure are very high. I am reminded from behind that it is a free and capitalist country. I content myself with saying that there is this disparity; let us face the fact. There is a disparity in coal cost which is as great as, if not greater than, any present disparity between American and British heavy steel prices. Whereas British prewar prices were 10s a too at least on the average less than American prices, they are now much above American prices.
This coal question goes further. There is the question of the regularity and continuity of adequate supplies of coal for the industry, and I say this to the Government. There will be, and there must remain, some doubt as to whether we shall have adequate supplies of coal this year for all our purposes. The Minister of Fuel and Power is dealing with that matter energetically day in and day out, but there is a. great danger, which I have always foreseen and which I have always regarded as the gravest risk, that the Coal Board will be unable to develop within the operating units the flexibility of commercial and operational management which exists under the present system— or, let me put it another way, it will be the hardest task of the Coal Board to develop that flexibility. I can speak from my experience at the Central Electricity Board, to which the Chancellor referred, and I can speak also from my experience of royal ordnance factories. I think the Minister of Supply will bear me out when I say that it is the most difficult thing in the world, even there, to secure a responsible, creative and a flexible management in the units when the real responsibility lies at the centre. It does not much matter whether that centre is a large regional centre, or a headquarters centre.
Coal has been nationalised, and the technique must be built up; I hope it will be built up, for failure to do so would be a most ghastly failure from an industrial point of view. I suggest to the Government that before they adventure themselves too widely in a field of this kind, or do something which might, in the end, strike right at the roots of British industry, they should take time, and do first the things that lie to their hand and think of further experiments later. I emphasise that all the more when I come to my conclusion, which is that it is not the 1026 least bit necessary to nationalise iron and steel in order to achieve the highest efficiency. Neither the Minister of Supply nor the Chancellor has said it is necessary; they have said that they were about to do it, but because you are going to do a thing it does not follow that you have proved that you ought to do it. I suggest that no proof at all has been given by the other side that this ought to tie done.
The best combined brains and technical advice in this country were available for the preparation of the plan which is now before the Government. The industry has the organisation to carry the plan through. The need for efficiency and still more efficiency is not a reason at all for nationalisation, but it is a strong argument for asking the industry to get on with the job, as they are prepared to do. Neither is nationalisation necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the public interest. All the safeguards that ought to be necessary in the public interest already rest in the hands of the Minister of Supply. He possesses the powers, and I cannot think of any further power he requires. The steel industry is very conscious of its public responsibility, whatever criticism may be made, and is prepared to submit, as is no other industry I know of, to public supervision. If the prewar machinery of public supervision is not thought to be enough for the purpose, then by all means improve it, elaborate it and establish a new machine. The Minister of Supply can establish a new machine under his present powers; indeed, he proposes to set up a board of control in any case.
There has been no consultation with the industry about this matter, none at all. If the Government would consult with the industry, all sections of it, men and employers alike, they could satisfy themselves beyond any doubt that a system of control could be established which would safeguard every public interest which needs to be safeguarded. I cannot think of a single public interest that cannot be safeguarded by control. The industry could then go confidently forward with its great schemes, fully pledged, and under any supervision you like, to secure the fullest degree of efficiency and service of the highest quality at the lowest economic prices. The steel industry, more perhaps than any other, has developed its organisation in a 1027 way that makes it possible to fulfil a unified and balanced national plan, leaving the Government to declare broad policy and to exercise close supervision of that policy in the national interest, while leaving the industry to carry it through in a responsible way. That is the relationship between industry and Government which I think it would be of the greatest importance for the Government to develop. There lies the Dunkirk spirit of which the Prime Minister speaks. In that way will be preserved all the flexibility and all the energy, operational, technical and commercial, which are so vital in industries with such diversity and such wide international contacts and markets as the iron and steel industry possesses.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, not only on my own behalf but on behalf of the workers in the steel industry? The workers in the steel industry in Sheffield suffered grievously between the two wars, and it my confident hope and belief that never again will prolonged mass unemployment Wight the social and economic life of that great steel city. No one can deny the importance of the iron and steel industry. England's pre-eminent industrial position in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was very largely built up on the steel industry. Two great inventions helped tremendously, first that of Bessemer who suggested that impurities should be blown out of iron by air. This must have startled the Victorian iron masters, who no doubt thought his suggestion fantastic. The second was the great invention of Siemens' of the open hearth system. Later, Sheffield had to its credit two other inventions. The first was that of Dr. Hadfield in 1882. He discovered manganese steel, of very great wearing capacity and of surprising toughness. Later, in 1913, Harry Brearley, experimenting with gun barrels made of alloy steel, accidentally, and perhaps with a flash of genius, discovered stainless steel. In 1870, Great Britain produced 50 per cent, of the world's pig iron, 37.5 per cent, of the wrought iron and 43 per cent, of steel. In 1930, the percentage of iron and steel had fallen to 8 and only in the wrought iron section, a decaying section, was there any lingering strength.
1028 The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) yesterday gave a quotation from that admirable study of the iron and steel industry made by the two economists, Mr. Burnham and Mr. Hoskins. May I give another quotation? They said:At the beginning of the steel age no country worked under more favourable conditions than Britain. We had extensive deposits of coal and ore in close proximity for the cheap production of pig iron, and some of the best coking coal occurred near seaboard where the world's best ores could be imported at low freights. We had industries of the first order, coal, ores, works, plant and machinery, and inherited metallurgical skill. In the construction of locomotives and shipbuilding we always led. Our trade position geographically was very favourable and we enjoyed political and economic strength and stability.They analysed the causes of the decline in the iron and steel industry. It must be remembered that, of the major industries in this country, the iron and steel industry, according to the census figures of 1930. was the only one which showed not only a relative, but an absolute, decline in the production figures. Why? Again the authors of this admirable and dispassionate study of the industry tell us. They say:The handling of the ore situation "—which of course is the basis of the iron and steel industry—lacked foresight and vision.There was, they said,delay in the mechanisation of ore-winning methods, the small scale transport of ore, and lag in the integration of raw material ownership.They go on to say:The most important hindrance was the amazing neglect of British basic ores, which were 2s. 6d. per ton closer to coal than Minette ores. The mixing of ores was neglected, although the advantages were known at the beginning of the period. British ores were adaptable to the Thomas process, but, due to prejudice, they were not exploited, although basic pig iron was imported from the Continent, in addition to vast quantities of basic steel.So it goes on. Indictment after indictment of the iron and steel industry is contained in that study.
§ Major Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Eccle-sall)
Most of the illustrations the hon. Gentleman has given are from 1930, at the time of the greatest world slump. Is he now suggesting that that slump was solely due to the iron and steel masters?
§ Mr. Burden
If the hon. and gallant Member had been more patient he would have found that I was about to give illustrations of how the industry has developed since 1930. I shall endeavour to show that it has developed under the fostering help of the State, and to prove that statement by a quotation from the Import Duties Advisory Committee. As far back as 1916, during the first world war, the difficulties and deficiencies of the iron and steel trade were known, and a committee of the Board of Trade recommended reorganisation of the industry, concentration in plants of more than 300,000 tons capacity, that combinations should erect wholly new plants, that foreign mines should be bought, the formation of export selling associations, and that there should be a temporary tariff on steel manufactures. They were in favour of coming to the State for assistance.
Did the industry, after the first world war, face these problems? Not a bit of it. No fewer than 12 of the most important firms distributed bonus shares to their shareholders from reserves accumulated during the first world war. Let me give to the House one or two instances. The Consett Iron Company, with a capital of —2 million, gave two shares for each one held: Hadfields, with a capital of —800,000, gave two shares for each one held: Lysaght's, with a capital of —1,600,000 gave four shares for each one held.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Does not the hon. Member remember that the Consett Iron and Steel Company had rearranged its; capital and had written it down very considerably?
§ Mr. Burden
If the hon. Member will be a little more patient, I will come to that point. Having distributed the bonus shares, but lacking foresight, courage and determination, the industry allowed mass unemployment to develop. Let me give figures to show what happened between 1922 and 1930. In July, 1922, no fewer than 26.7 per cent, of those engaged in the steel industry were unemployed. The method of calculating the figures of unemployment was altered, I will give figures for 1930. In that year, no fewer than 30.9 per cent, of those engaged in the industry were still unemployed. I will again quote from Burnham and Hoskins. They say: 1030In the years 1921–30 the real problem was to put the industry into a position to attract capital as a permanent investment. Professor Jevons suggested that the State should assist in financing the replanning of the whole of the heavy industry at economically strategic points in coordinated modern plants of sufficient size to obtain the best scientific management.I come now to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings). In 1931, the Import Duties Act imposed a tariff of 10 per cent, on practically all manufactured articles. The iron and steel industry was at the head of the queue asking for help over and above the 10 per cent, and, as the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) is aware, the industry got an additional 20 per cent.—but on what terms? In order that there may be no misunderstanding, I quote from a letter written to Sir George May by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer:From the outset, the Government have made clear their view that an efficient and. prosperous iron and steel industry is essential to this country, and that the duties imposed on foreign imports were intended to provide opportunity for the reorganisation which was necessary for this purpose.What is implied in the reference to an efficient and prosperous industry? The implication is that the industry, in 1930 and beforehand, was not efficient, and that it was Government help and backing which were necessary to put it on an efficient footing. Judged by ordinary standards, which are acceptable in many quarters of the Opposition, that help was satisfactory, because in 1937 many of the firms which had not been earning any money, or paying any dividends in 1930–31, were paying 10 per cent, or more. There were exceptional cases where, for instance, the Stanton Iron and Steel Company earned 8 per cent, on its capital in 1932, but trebled the amount in 1938, when 24 per cent. was earned. Similarly, the Whitehead Iron and Steel Company earned 12 per cent, in 1932, but in 1937–38 that figure was multiplied nine times, and it paid a dividend of 74 per cent. Hon. Members opposite cannot take any credit to their souls about that, or pretend that the improvement was due to the sturdy individualism of private enterprise. I commend to their attention a short extract from the Report of the Import Duties Advisory 1031 Committee, in the summary of which they reported:The policy pursued by the State since 1932 has contributed materially to rehabilitate the iron and steel industry and to put it on a profit-making basis. It has also assisted the promotion of a comprehensive organisation capable of exercising a powerful influence on the conduct of the industry a a whole and able to negotiate with its foreign competitors on equal terms.The report goes on:There cannot be a return to the lack of organisation, the almost casual development, and the competition largely unrestricted at home and almost wholly unrestricted from abroad, and the State cannot divest itself of responsibility as to the conduct of a protected industry so far-reaching in its scope, so vital to the national well being, so largely affected by State fiscal policy, and now being brought into a closely knit organisation.Surely, that is evidence that the industry, which I admit played a great part in the second world war, would not have been put on to its feet and would not have reached the pitch of efficiency which it reached in 1938 if it had been left in its old unrestricted private competitive state.
§ Sir A. Duncan
Will the hon. Member bear in mind that the Committee submitted that there was a due amount of public guidance and a due amount of public accountability?
§ Mr. Burden
I am glad to have had that admission from the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that, as the Chancellor said, we shall be able to take him along with us in the next logical step in the development, to which I shall refer later. It is true that the industry is now proposing reorganisation. It is true that in July, 1945, a gentleman who went from the Ministry of Supply to become the technical and commercial adviser to the Federation, published on its behalf a scheme for the reorganisation of the industrly, involving, I believe, an expenditure of £125 million. The present report mentions an expenditure of £168 million to reorganise the industry. While we give the industry credit for that, surely, some of us must bear in mind what has happened in reorganisation schemes, and the ruthless way in which, in the interests of the industry., Jarrow was treated, and remembering these things, ask ourselves whether we can trust in the industry to carry out reorganisation in the public interest, for behind reorganisation there is 1032 a great human and social problem. It is because I believe that only the Government can carry through reorganisation, and look after that problem in the right way, that I am glad the Minister has submitted his proposals.
The hon. Member for Hallam has interrupted me once or twice. I wish to recall to his mind something which he is reported to have said in Sheffield in a speech immediately after the Minister of Supply first announced these proposals. If the hon. Member was correctly reported in the local Press, he said that he hoped there would be no "Quislings"In the steel industry. " Quisling "Is an ugly word. " Quisling " stands for an ugly thing. " Quisling,"I believe, was a term hurled at Lord Catto by a former Member of the House because Lord Catto decided to continue as Governor of the Bank of England. I ask the Minister of Supply not to choose his advisers in this matter from those so-called experts in the industry, the people who have worked a restrictionist, monopolistic, protectionist policy. I believe there are men trained in the industry who are ready and willing, if they get the opportunity, to lift the industry on to higher and better levels of public service in the interests of the community. If those men are chosen, I am convinced that the iron and steel industry, with fuel, electricity and transport, will play its part in the reorganisation of our industries and in the building up of a new world order based not on scarcity and restriction, but on the plenty, and make this the century of the common man.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I must compliment the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) upon the exhaustive researches which he has made into the dividend policy of the iron and steel industry. I do not intend to follow him in that matter, but it makes it the easier for me to confess at the outset that I have some inerest in this industry, which I think it is proper to confess. My great great grandfather was an iron master, and rather a good one, and, like many other people, he believed in the hereditary system. As a result, I still own some iron and steel shares; at least, for the moment.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deal with me as generously as the national interest permits. I turn from the past history of this industry to the Motion which the Government have put down. They ask for general approval of their ownership of some sections of the iron and steel industry. I have no particular objection to the Government of the day owning a steel firm. I think quite a lot could be said in favour of it. It would probably be an advantage if the Minister of Supply had owned a steel firm in the past, because I think it would make it more easy for him to know which section of the industry he should nationalise. If one were setting up a great new steel works in Northamptonshire, there would be a good case for the Minister of Supply taking them over and making them the best steel works in the world. What I am concerned about in discussing a Motion of this kind is that it seems to me there is too much talk on the question of who is going to own the steel industry, and nothing like enough has been said about what the Government intend to do with it. We have heard, for example, a discussion as to whether the Skinnin-rove Company approves the industry's plan. What we would like to know is whether the Government approve the industry's plan. All that the Minister of Supply has said so far is that he accepts much of it. We want to know how much, before we are asked to hand it over. I would like to ask a few questions, and though the Lord President—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Lord President is replying, so that I should think the chances of getting a reply to any of my questions are almost nil. Nevertheless, I will try again as I have tried in the past. I will ask them slowly so that he can write them down if he wishes.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he is going to put a string of questions so that he, as a so-called progressive Tory, may evade making any statement of where he stands on the issue of policy involved?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No, I am not going to evade anything, but if I am allowed, I hope to make one or two observations about the iron and steel industry myself. I am not asking the Government to comment in detail on the industry's plan—I think that would be unfair—but they have had it for several months; they have had ample opportunity of studying it, and they should be able to say where they stand, at least, on the broad lines. Do they think the industry has set its target high enough? Do they regard the sum of £168 million for a period of seven years as rather a parsimonious approach to this matter, or do they contemplate, when they are in control of the situation, development upon a very much greater scale? We ought to be told. I want to know their views on the scrapping policy. The Minister of Supply pointed out that in the industry's plan 30 per cent, of the steel capacity and 40 per cent, of the blast furnace capacity was to be scrapped. Do the Government agree with that figure, or is it part of their case that the industry's plan is not sufficient in scope and that, in point of fact, a great deal more of the existing capacity ought to be scrapped?
If I might have the attention of the Minister, I would like to know the Government's views about exports. I see the target is put at 3,000,000 tons. Is that, in the Government's view, a high enough figure? In the course of our discussions a large number of hon. Members opposite have condemned the cartel. Will the Government in no circumstances whatever enter into a cartel? I would like to know if that -is part of their policy, because if so we ought to be given an assurance that in no circumstances whatever will the new steel board enter into any international cartel. After all, it has been condemned in fairly clear terms. I would also like to ask whether the Government are satisfied with the price situation. The pre-scheme and post-scheme prices are set out in Table IX of the Report, and it is hoped that with the progressive reorganisation of the industry the prices will come down. Do the Government intend to bring them down still further? Are they satisfied with those prices? If they are asking to-own the industry, I think we are entitled to know whether it is part of their case that they can reduce the price of steel lower than that to which it would be reduced under the industry's own plan. I hope 1035 the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer at least some of those questions, although I should think he is quite incapable of answering them, because the fact is that the Government have not got a steel plan at all. If they had a steel plan and had given any thought to these matters, which are the main basis of any steel plan, obviously they would have decided them long ago.
May I say a few words about the steel industry? I am not an expert on the steel industry at all. The steel industry is, of course, a monopoly, and, frankly, on the whole I dislike monopolies. But let us be quite, clear that it was encouraged and assisted in every way by the Government of the day in order to set up that particular type of organisation. That monopoly was created by the Government. It has been largely controlled by the Government under the Import Duties Advisory Committee or the Iron and Steel Control, or, under the future arrangements, by the right hon. Gentleman's steel board. Rightly or wrongly, the principle that steel should be a monopoly of some kind seems to me to be accepted by everybody. It is obviously accepted by the Socialist Party, because they are going to continue it. It was introduced and sponsored very largely by the Conservative Party—and I agree with the Minister of Supply—so that I think the principle that we should have a monopoly, at least at this stage in Our affairs, is something which is accepted on all sides of the House.
I now come to the approach of the Labour Party as set out in a booklet, of which I retain a cherished copy, " Let Us Face the Future."It says:Private monopoly has maintained high prices and kept inefficient, high cost plant in existence. Only if public ownership replaces private monopoly can the industry become efficient.And they propose that it should be taken over. Incidentally, what is all this talk about the careful impartial approach that has been given to this matter recently? It was long ago part of the policy of the Socialist Government that this industry should be nationalised. Let us be frank about these things. The Chancellor " let the cat out, of the bag "In the course of 1036 his remarks when he told the chairman of Richard Thomas that he was going to take it over in the days of the Coalition Government.
§ Mr. Dalton
Speaking with the chairman of Richard Thomas in one of those many friendly conversations that he and I had together, I expressed an opinion about the probabilities.
It seems to have been a fairly accurate opinion. It is one which we all recognise has come about. I am not quarrelling. All I am saying is that it is much better to be open about these things than to imagine that we have had an impartial examination. The point I wanted to bring out was this what was the reason advanced at that time by the Socialist Government? The reason at that time was that the monopoly had maintained high prices and kept inefficient, high cost plant in existence. Let us be clear about this matter of monopolies. Of course, all monopolies charge prices higher than those that could be charged by the most efficient plants. That is the object of a monopoly; it is the object of a private monopoly, and it is the object of a State monopoly. The idea of a monopoly is to prevent those violent upheavals and rapid changes in development which are inclined to happen under a completely free system.
Suppose, for example—though I do not say it is something any party would suggest—that at this moment we said to Richard Thomas, " Forget all about Socialist nationalisation and controls and the rest of it. Put up a great steel plant and produce steel, and anything else you can as a result of the finishing processes, as cheaply as you can." Quite obviously they would probably charge a cheaper price than any monopoly suggested by the party opposite, or anything run under the very able administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. (Sir A. Duncan). It is part of the price that we pay; we sacrifice the cheap price, the efficiency and the progress, in order to avoid the social consequence of rapid change, to some extent to keep plants in operation. Take another thing which I understand the right hon. Gentleman is going to do. The Minister of Supply in his speech made this perfectly plain. He said we should consider the location of these new industries. Indeed, we have to consider the location, 1037 and it may be that under the most efficient plan there would be set up a new steel plant which would take away the employment which other areas had previously enjoyed, thereby bringing very grave unemployment problems to a particular area.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that the industry, as a whole, has accepted this plan However, in the area around me, in Monmouthshire, there is the old Monmouthshire tinplate industry. I assure the right hon Gentleman that in Pontypool, where there has been a tin-plate industry for very many years, and where there is a conglomeration of various industries connected with the iron and steel process—iron and steel foundries, tinplate works, sheet works and so on— the plan as put forward by the Government will have very serious repercussions indeed. It will be no comfort to men in such areas to know that the repercussions are taking place under an industry owned by the right hon. Gentleman. What they are interested in is, not who owns the industry, but whether there will be a steel industry at all in that area. The point I wish to emphasise is this. Under any of these monopoly schemes, whether it is a private monopoly under the Iron and Steel Federation or whether it is a monopoly run by the party opposite, we are bound to make some sacrifices so far as efficiency and the cheapest price is concerned.
I agree that everybody has accepted the principle that the iron and steel industry should be monopolistic in character. However, I would ask the Government to look at one thing. I have read this Report, indeed, I hope every hon. Member who participates in this Debate has done, and I observe that, apart from the big steel works—and this is a matter that was known to most of us before—there are vast numbers of trade organisations. There is an organisation that rejoices in the name of the British Grit Association, an admirable and very proper association, and there are many others. How many of those fix prices? How many of those really need to be organised on the basis of a monopoly? Take, for example, manufacturers of cast iron bedsteads. Is it really necessary that they should all be organised into a price ring? I think that at the very time the Government are concerned with bringing large sections of the industry into a tighter public ownership they might be equally concerned to 1038 see that there is a degree of enterprise among some of the extremer fringes of the industry. I pass that comment on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because it would be entirely consistent with the pledges of the Labour Party at the time of the Election.
I turn to what, I think, is the real basis of this Debate. The real question we have to face is what the relations between the monopoly which exists and the State ought to be. The Government say the only way of dealing with it is that they should own the whole thing. That is their case. Of course, it is always very easy to find reasons for nationalising an industry. If it is competitive, like road transport, it is said that it is a most wasteful competition, that it needs coordinating, and that, therefore, it has to be brought together under a nationalisation scheme. If the industry has eliminated all competition and brought itself into a tight monopoly, it is said that it is one of those wicked cartels and, therefore, it must be taken over. Really, some of the arguments on this matter are becoming a little farfetched. Let me take the ordinary case which has been put forward in the past and is put forward here. It is sometimes said of an industry that the labour situation is such that public ownership is the only thing which will satisfy the labour force. That was said, with some degree of justification, in regard to the coal industry. I think the Chancellor would agree that argument would not apply here. On the other hand, it may be said that the industry refuses to organise. The iron and steel industry is not refusing to organise. It has produced a great many more plans than the Government have produced.
I turn to the extraordinary reasons— and they are quite extraordinary—which were produced yesterday by the Minister of Supply. Some of them are astonishing. He said he would give us the reasons. The first reason he gave was that the priorities of finance would have to be laid down by the Government—mark this, the priorities of finance. The Minister of Supply did not suggest that the Government would have to supply the finance. Some hon. Members who followed him did, and the " Daily Herald" was trying to sell that statement today. "The public must find the money; therefore, the State must own the industry,"Is the cry, and one which 1039 the Government think might appeal to the public. It is, of course, an entirely false statement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not being asked to supply the money, and he himself very fairly stated that position today. All that is asked is that the Government should lay down the priority. Because a great basic industry such as the iron and steel industry is given priority over, say, silk stockings in regard to production and capital, is that a reason for nationalising it? At the present moment if anybody wants to build a laundry he has to get a licence for it. Is that a reason why the State should take it over? The argument got very nearly as far as that, because the Minister of Supply used the argument, not only with regard to money, but even with regard to bricks, saying that priorities and facilities would have to be given for the necessary labour and materials. Surely, that cannot be put forward as an argument for national ownership?
He then went on to his next point— and I make this a substantial point—and said that this industry could not put through a reorganisation plan of its own. He said that this divorce of control and ownership would not work. What will happen to the rest of the Government's schemes and plans? I thought it was the proud boast of this Government that they were going to exercise over-all control over the main lines and strategy of our whole economic and industrial life. Is it part of their case that the control will not work unless they bring the other 80 per cent, of industry under public ownership? What about the working parties at the present time? What about the working party in regard to cotton, or the working party on the pottery industry? They have just reported back, and people all over the country are reading with interest the reports they have made for reorganisation and reconstruction in those particular industries. It is part of those reports, as I understand them, that the industries should remain under private enterprise. Is it part of the Government's case that this divorce of control and ownership will not work? If so, why are the working parties wasting their time going about the industries?
I believe, and I have always firmly believed—and I think it will be conceded that I have been consistent in this matter —that it is part of the State's responsi- 1040 bility to have some control over our industrial and economic life, and that it is the job of industry to get on with the day to day running of industry. I had hoped, when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues appointed these working parties, that that was the kind of thing we could expect in regard to those industries, but it appears that even that hope is gone.
I wonder why it is they want ownership. I do not think it is because of politics, in that sense. I think it is something a bit more fundamental. They want to do with steel what they think they have already done with coal—and, indeed, probably have done—and, to some extent, with cotton. They want to control the raw material. If they can control the raw material they will have the whip hand, not over one big industry only, but over all the hundreds, indeed, thousands of small industries in this country. It will not be necessary to come to the House of Commons and ask for the mandate of the House of Commons to nationalise those small industries. It will not even be necessary to get over the rather difficult affair of not having a mandate to do it at the Election. It will be possible completely to strangle them.
We have seen what is going to happen already in the coal industry. There will be a Board to discriminate between one consumer and another, with power to favour the subsidiaries of firms under its control against firms in private enterprise. All the efforts on the part of the Opposition to introduce safeguards are resisted. I have no doubt we shall see exactly the same thing in the steel industry. I have no doubt whatever that a Bill will be introduced, and the making of steel will be in the hands of the Government; and some of the finishing processes will be in the hands of the Government, too. Will the Government sell to their own finishing process firms on the same terms as to their competitors? I think there is very little doubt about what the answer to that will be. That is, I think, the real reason behind the Government's desire for ownership.
I do not want to speak any longer, but I am bound to say that I think the Government, in this matter, have missed a great opportunity. I do not know whether they have made a big mistake. 1041 It is always unwise to prophesy in politics. The events unfolding themselves in the industrial world are such that few of us could say that this or that will happen in so many years' time. This may be the big mistake of the Socialist Government. I do not know. But I do say that they have missed a great opportunity. If ever there was a chance for partnership between the State and industry, this was it. Let the Government, in a case like this, take 100 per cent, control to see a reorganisation scheme put through. Having agreed upon that scheme, let them take powers to put in managers, if need be, as they did in wartime under wartime controls, so that the reorganisation scheme can be put through in the quickest possible time. Having got the power to put the scheme through, let them put the immense responsibility on the reorganised industry of running its own affairs. That is the right course.
What the Government have done is to take the worst of both worlds. They have iiddled about with reorganisation, and they do not know now whether they accept it or reject it, and they have got the ownership of 66 per cent, of the industry itself. That is not going to help anybody at all. I am bound to repeat that a great opportunity has been missed. I believe that if the Government had gone forward taking the control powers they needed to put reorganisation into effect, we should then have had the sort of Government control, the sort of Government planning, in which I have always believed; and, in addition, the initiative and enterprise amongst the men who have built up and who in the future will, I hope, build up the steel industry of this country.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
We are devoting our attention today to the industries which are the basis of modern industrial life, especially in our own country, which is more highly industrialised than any other country in the world. Let me make it clear that in the observations which I shall make, I cast no reflection whatever upon those engaged in the industry, the managements or the people who are rendering service in the industry. I make no reflection upon them whatever. Most of them have served the industry well. The contribution they made to the war effort will 1042 bear favourable comparison with that of any other section. Most of those engaged on the management side are big men, with a big outlook and with vision. Any Government that is courageous, that will plan scientifically, will command the confidence and wholehearted support of the large proportion of men engaged in the steel industry. They realise that they have been the victims of private ownership and finance capital, and of price fixing for far too long.
This Report on the industry which we have before us is a well informed Report. It is the result of hard work, put into its preparation by managements, technicians, accountants and others. This Report provides us with a basis and with specifications upon which a plan can be drawn up and which it is time the Government were drawing up, with regard to our economic position as a whole. This provides us with adequate specifications upon which a really national plan can be drawn in order to build an efficient steel industry. Prior to. the war the output per person in the steel industry in Britain can be taken at 100. In the United States of America it was 400. Between 1935 and 1936 the annual value of output per head in iron and steel was in Britain £239; in Germany, £291; in the United States of America, £596; while our workers worked at least as hard if not harder than any in any part of the world. Indeed, they worked faster, longer, harder, and for less wages than the workers were receiving in the United States of America. Between 1934 and 1939 the average rate of capital expenditure, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) said this afternoon, was £10 million, and that in a period when we were confronted with the growing menace of the greatest military power that had ever existed in the world.
The Steel Federation's prices in relation to other commodities, as noted by the Board of Trade Index in 1934—the excess of iron and steel prices—was 10.6, and in 1938 it was 37.7. I should like the Government to carry out as soon as possible an investigation into the costs for which this industry has been responsible during the past ten years. On examination we find that since the Federation began a policy of price fixation, prices have gone up compared with pre- 1043 Federation days. This has had a very serious effect upon those engaged in the heavy industries. It has seriously affected the engineering and shipbuilding industries, and our export trade. These industries have been subject to price fixing by trade associations, and this has affected internal prices and our export trade. The time has arrived for a full investigation to be made into the question of price fixation by the many trade associations in this country, and the time has arrived when national ownership must put an end to all this. Profitability has determined the policy of this industry, instead of technical requirements. For these reasons I am asking for an immediate investigation to be made.
Government spokesmen and others are going about the country and appealing to those engaged in industry to increase production, and most of us in this House will be ready to cooperate in that appeal. But what are the facts? Our exports for galvanised, tinned and black steel sheets and plates of one-eighth stood at 1,395,499 tons in 1913, whereas in 1938 the figure had fallen to 554,870 tons. We cannot hope to hold our own in the world markets if prices are to be fixed in the industry as they have been during the past 13 years. Our exports of coal, steel and cotton have continued to decline during this period, and this is a serious economic fact, which we must face up to if we are to improve our standard of living. We on this side not only suggest increased production to make our country greater but a sustained raising of the standard of living of our people. Week after week we advocate important improvements in our social services, but our economic organisation must be upon the most efficient basis to have the maximum results from the human energy expended in industry. During the war our people proved how great they were, and our workers won admiration throughout the world as a result of the mighty contribution they made in the battle for freedom. People who can be great in war can be equally great in peace, provided that industry is organised on an efficient basis and its equipment is modernised with the necessary capital.
We have no need to build up an indictment against the steel industry, because the facts themselves do so. I am not uttering a word of criticism in regard to the management of the industry, be- 1044 cause it is outside the industry that the trouble starts. Finance and capital have stood in the way of the development of our basic industries, but our people have decided that the industries must be organised on an efficient basis, to achieve maximum output, and so to increase our exports and enable this country to become even greater than it has been in the past. The main issue to be considered is what is the best road forward. This is a Report to fit the needs of private ownership. We now need to use it as a basis for preparing plans which will give the best results for the nation. The Report admits the need for large-scale expenditure in order to carry out urgently required modernisation. I very much doubt whether any Member on the other side who disagrees with the line we have taken, has studied the Report to the extent which he might have done. I would direct the attention of the House to a very serious statement on page 32 No one is to blame for this, because we were all victims of what took place during the war. The Report states:The problem of building in a period of high plant cost is a handicap in relation to the United States, where 15 million tons of new capacity was built during five years when war conditions suspended new construction here. Part of the American expenditure was incurred by the Government and part by the industry.This is part of our case, and shows the urgency of the step we are taking.
§ Lieut-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
Will the hon. Gentleman read what follows, and show how the industry was permitted to write off the expenditure?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Certainly, and this is evidence of what I am saying:Part of the American expenditure was incurred by the Government and part by the industry. The industry was permitted to write off their expenditure at the rate of 20 per cent, per annum, and thus recover the outlay against war income. A major reconstruction and extension of capacity has thus been carried through in America with a legacy of very minor capital charges.It is essential that the same thing should be done here. The point I am making is that private enterprise is incapable of doing it, and is incapable of putting the industry on the same basis as the American steel industry.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
Surely the reason was that, in America, private enterprise was not saddled as it was here 1045 with a 100 per cent. Excess Profits Tax? As to who is to blame for this, I would point out that hon. Members opposite were clamouring at the beginning of the war for a roo per cent. Excess Profits Tax.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The logic of that remark is that the right hon. Gentleman stood for profit-making to be continued without any limitation. If I remember rightly, it was a Conservative Government which introduced the 100 per cent. tax, but in my view it was not administered in such a way as to make it really 1000 per cent.
The Report means Government finance, Government concession and Government assistance. Let me emphasise to the Government that the whole of the Labour, trade union and Cooperative movements have opposed this drift for 15 years of the use of public money for the perpetuation of profit-making concerns. I congratulate the responsible Minister on having arrived at this decision with regard to the steel industry. What applies to the steel industry applies equally to other basic industries which are to be considered. Taking the modern view, the steel industry is essentially a national industry. The case made out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, who sees that public ownership is inevitable, was devoted to keeping the industry as long as he possibly can for those whom he represents so well. This Report emphasises that many plants are badly located, some are obsolete, and the capacity of others is far too small. It calls for integrated concerns, increase in the size of plants, more efficient production methods, production from the raw material to the finished product, fuel economy and more scientific research to be applied to the industry.
All this calls for large-scale capital expenditure. All this means that you have either private national monopoly ownership or public ownership. We, on this side of the House, stand for full public ownership of the steel industry. The people recently voted for that, science demands it, and the economic needs of our country demand it. (An HON. MEMBER: " What kind of science? "] Industrial science. I repeat that science demands it. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were better acquainted with the scientists in the industry, they would know that scientists are demanding it. 1046 Twentieth century technology demands it. The technical advantages of public ownership are enormous. Here are some constructive suggestions—[HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear."]—far different from anything we have heard from the other side up to now. There should be set up a National Steel Corporation. It should be composed of a chairman, a deputy-chairman, and one other to be appointed by the Minister. They should appoint two others, and there should be three elected every five years by all engaged in the industry. Twice, in my relatively short time, we have fought in order to save democracy, and it is time that we had some instalment of democracy in industry itself. If the election took place every five years, this would stimulate great interest and keenness in the industry. Plans would be put before the industry; targets would be considered; and instead of having a policy imposed upon them, like the representatives of large-scale industry have done for too long, those who were serving. the industry and the nation would have a say in what was taking place. If any right hon. Gentleman or lion Gentleman opposite doubts the advisability of this, I invite him to read the story of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Our economic needs call for the production of a similar policy. This would stimulate great interest and achievement in the industry.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
Is this a reflection on the composition of the National Coal Board appointed by the present Government, which does not include elected representatives of the industry? It is a most interesting suggestion, and I hope that the Chancellor will listen to it.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
We are not considering the Coal Board now, and so far as the industry is concerned, we, unlike horn Members on the other side, are making constructive suggestions on behalf of the people, which, if they do not receive consideration now, will receive it sooner or later.
Acting under the national concern, I suggest that there should be a North of England Steel and Metal Corporation and Midland, Welsh and Scottish Corporations. They should have the powers of decision within limits, and local reasonable. autonomy. Give our people the tools, the equipment, and they will deliver 1047 the goods. We must have a grouping of plants which will result in maximum efficiency, and I am suggesting this decentralised regional organisation. because, in my view, it is the.best way to bring about maximum efficiency. It is because we realise that the efficiency and the future greatness of all modern countries are largely based upon the greatness of the steel industry, and upon its efficiency that we say that there are only two ways forward: either the way towards national monopoly ownership, or the way towards public ownership, running the industry for the benefit of the people, and, at the same time, making a great contribution towards solving mankind's economic problem.
Therefore, we have reached the stage when mankind has got to embark upon a policy of cooperation internally, and a policy of cooperation throughout the world. This is a big step forward towards building up cooperation internally, towards harnessing the people's energy to the maximum extent, towards increasing productivity, and, as a result of that, increasing our contributions to the export trade, and towards bringing about, and laying the basis of, international economic cooperation. In that way, we are helping to solve mankind's economic problem, and it is only in that way that we shall avoid a repetition of what we have already passed through on two occasions.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I do not propose to follow the line of argument of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). He speaks with a great sincerity, which one must respect, but the reason I do not like following him is that nearly always he says a remarkable number of things about which one wants to argue indefinitely; and, with the time at one's disposal, that cannot be done. I believe that the objectives which he is after are the same as those of all other hon. Members: A really efficient industry, and the best standard of living for the men in it. But we fall out sadly on the methods of obtaining it.
At this stage in the Debate it is very difficult to avoid a certain amount of repetition. One must go back over what has been said, and I think that at this stage it is permissible to do so. I am afraid that I am going right back 1048 to the Minister's speech. I am not an expert on steel. I am one of those who have worried a great deal in the past about the monopolistic tendencies which appeared to exist in the steel industry. I can say that when the firm with which I was connected was building ships in the years before the war, we may have made one or two thoroughly irresponsible statements about the steel people, such as the statement quoted yesterday of an eminent leader of the motor car industry. Lots of us felt that there was something to worry about in the growth of this monopoly, and I agree that some of us may have made that kind of remark, although we were ill advised to do so without looking into the facts very carefully indeed.
The facts as presented by the Minister in his opening statement, if correct and wholly true, were very disturbing. I have been carefully through his speech in HANSARD and I listened to it. I should say that it is not only the written word but the effect on the House that must be considered. The impression I got from his speech is that this industry, after a period of boom, became thoroughly inefficient between the wars, was saved from disaster by the import duties, and thereafter formed itself into a centralised, monopolistic control, maintaining high costs and high prices by inefficient methods, all of which was free of any national control and conducted without regard to the public interest. Such was my impression of the speech. Here I might quote one sentence from the Minister's speech:No national control was established adequate to prevent a steep and steady rise, not only in prices, but in profits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 846.]I think that the Minister will agree that this version is a fair enough impression of what he said yesterday. It is necessary to agree on the facts in a matter of this importance, and if I am wrong in anything, I hope the Minister will correct me. But this is not what happened. In the last war this industry was forced to expand quite unnaturally to meet the demands of that war. In the 'twenties it, more than any other industry, met the full force of world economic fluctuations; it was then faced with competition from the Continent, which amounted to dumping on these shores goods produced with very low paid labour. It sought protec- 1049 tion and, having got protection, it started to set its house in order. It made quite remarkable progress in doing so considering it had only three years in which to do it, because we must remember that the crisis in the steel industry started in 1936 when the demands for war production were beginning to appear. During that period attempts were made to modernise, but it was equally necessary to keep old inefficient plants in existence. They could have been and should have been closed down, so that the charge, possibly, in " Let Us Face The Future "That high cost plants were kept going is correct, but they had to be kept in existence. Otherwise where would we have got the material for the rearmament programme, and what might have been the effect in this war if we had been without them?
During these years the steel industry was trying to do what it could to modernise, but it had to keep its output going. Let me come to the final charge, that of no adequate control. Is it not correct that when import duties were imposed, the whole structure of prices had to he submitted to the Import Duties Advisory Committee? I turn to the point made by the hon. Member for Stoke. He was talking about costs and suggested that surely somebody should have a look at these costs. Is it not correct that in order to establish prices, the steel industry had to submit costs in great detail to the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I ask the Minister if that is correct. I repeat my question. During the period we have been discussing, after the advent of the import duties, did the industry consistently submit to that Committee detailed costs before any price was fixed? I am very anxious to get that point clear, because from my point of view it is very important that hon. Members opposite should know it.
§ Mr. Wilmot
The short answer to that is that they did so. But that is not sufficient to answer the question. Part of our case is that an industry cannot be effectively controlled and developed unless it is owned by the Government. It cannot be done by controlling prices of an organisation on an inefficient structure.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am dealing with the charge that a private monopoly maintained high costs and high prices.
§ Mr. Maclay
I leave it to the House to decide. I have made my point. The Minister has turned the question into a completely different argument. I am going to repeat what I said, because it is important that hon. Members opposite should realise it. I am sorry there are so few of them here at the moment, but I can quite understand it as I am speaking.
§ Mr. Maclay
The true Liberal Party is now speaking. I was going to repeat that on this question of costs, ever since these import duties were brought into existence, the industry has been submitting full details of its costs to this Committee. The Minister has agreed to that, and also that no price was fixed until these costs were thoroughly scrutinised.
§ Mr. Wilmot
If the hon. Member is going to ask me a question I wish he would allow me to say again, that nobody can be a low cost producer, if he has an obsolete plant and the Import Duties Advisory Committee has no power to change the plant.
§ Mr. Maclay
I agree. I have been trying to make it clear that I was only dealing with one charge against the industry. In the amount of time which is allowed to a back bencher one can only deal with one aspect of the case, but I should be delighted to deal with more if I had the time. I have, I think, established that the Minister's version of the industry is very far from the true position. It is one of those dangerous quarter truths. I have a great respect for the Minister, and I do not accuse him of deliberate misrepresentation, but I do say that in his presentation of the case he failed to put the facts before the House.
I admit that the steel industry presents an enormous problem to the country. There is the whole question of:As organisation and its relation to the Government. I think that there are other 1051 industries in t he same position, which will have to be considered sooner or later. I think it is folly for people on any side of the House to shut their eyes to that. We have reached a stage in evolution where the relationship between industry and Government has got to be decided. I was going to add " once and for all," but the way in which the Government are going to decide it now, is no good. I think the Minister put the matter very clearly at the end of his speech. He stated that:This divorce of control from ownership will not work and it must stop."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 5946; Vol. 423, c. 858.]That is the real fundamental question we have to discuss here. It is not really a question of the efficiency of the industry. Not once in the Minister's opening speech did he mention the future efficiency of the industry. I have been through it carefully and I have checked it, and no trace exists of any such reference. Further, no argument has been put forward by any hon. Member on the other side of the House as to how the future efficiency of the industry is going to be maintained by State ownership. I am afraid I am repeating a great deal of what one hon. Member on this side of the House said, but it is important that it should be emphasised—that no claim is made that nationalisation can make the industry more efficient.
What I would submit to the House is that in the Federation and its relationship to the Import Duties Advisory Committee we have an approach to a solution which however may not be ideal. There was control of costs and prices, and the Federation has been so organised as to make general modernisation of the steel industry possible. That is progress. The Federation has got a certain organisation, and it has got a certain relationship with the State. It states categorically that it is willing to develop this relationship. The point is that it is difficult to develop this relationship between industry and Government. The whole trouble is that the Government are taking the easy way— when they run up against this business's of how really to arrange the relationship in a democracy between a large scale industry and Government, the only thing they can do is nationalise it, But it really 1052 is a certain way of ruining the industry in the process.
I want to make one last important point, 'to refer to the interesting, speech which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) made yesterday. He discussed at some length, and with considerable effect on those who heard him, the question of the export of scrap iron to Japan before the war. I want to put this point to him, and to those who feel that the State ownership of the scrap iron industry would have made that kind of thing impossible. I will quote from my own experience. The shipbuilding firm with which I am connected, in the difficult period in the autumn of 1938, had a ship moving towards a certain country. We got a message from the Board of Trade saying that it would be a good idea if we diverted that ship. Immediately, by telephone, we said, " Could you give us your reasons and, what is more important, could you give us your instruction to divert the ship? "The answer was, " No." As some Members may know, when bills of lading are signed for a ship's voyage the insurance is invalid if the ship deviates from that voyage. One requires a Government instruction to keep the insurance valid. It is known technically as a " Restraint of Rulers and Princes."Therefore, we asked, " Why cannot we have orders to divert? " and the reply was that orders from the Government to divert the ship might provoke a diplomatic incident, and make the existing position infinitely worse. So we had to find some means of not arriving in that country.
If there was a proper relationship between industry and Government, working through various possible expedients which I have not time to detail now, the Government would be able to work with industry to achieve all sorts of objectives, including diplomatic objectives. If the Government are in actual ownership they will create crises almost every time—
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
Would it not have been much simpler if the ship had belonged to the Government, instead of to the hon. Gentleman's company?
§ Mr. Maclay
No, that is just my point. The ship was carrying cargo for an Italian firm. If it had been a Government ship, the bills of lading would have been precisely the same.
§ Mr. Maclay
Because there must be bills of lading for every cargo. If the Government had wanted that ship not to arrive, they would have had to break the bills of lading, and the result would have been immediately obvious. It is no secret that what is done in these cases is that the engineer of the ship, most surprisingly, finds that the coal is not burning very well. I use that as an illustration of Government owned property getting mixed up in international events. I could go on for a long time about this subject, but I must now stop.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I would first like to deal with one point made by the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) about the Import Duties Advisory Committee, as this is a matter which wants clearing up. It is true that iron and steel manufacturers could not raise their prices without the permission of the Advisory Committee, but that Committee had no power whatever to question the cost placed before them. Once satisfied the cost placed before them was the real cost the high price could still be put through by an apparently inefficient industry. Therefore, the argument about inefficiency is entirely irrelevant—
§ Mr. Maclay
That is a separate argument which I could not deal with without trespassing too long on the time of the House. I was concentrating on the general charge made yesterday, that the industry was uncontrolled before the war.
§ Mr. Edwards
The Advisory Committee could fix prices only on the cost given to them. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) mentioned that prices were agreed by the Advisory Committee. He might have told how often manufacturers went before the Committee, and had their increases refused. The people we are dealing with today, and those who are charged with inefficiency in the past, are those who were always claiming increases. The fact that there was control, through the Advisory Committee, kept prices down. Had there not been that Committee prices would have shot up to a higher figure.
§ Mr. Edwards
We are dealing with people who have run the industry, and the charge is made that they have run it inefficiently. The facts are there. They made application several times for increases, which were not allowed. Their costs should have bean lower than they turned out to be. It was said many times yesterday that nationalisation will not make the industry more efficient. I have never heard anybody say that it would. I have never heard anybody say that nationalisation, in itself, would make any industry more efficient. What it will do is to give us an opportunity to -make the industry more efficient by having control of it. Nothing can be done until there is this control. I agree that the test is up to the Government and, in particular, the Minister. My right hon. Friend now has the opportunity, arid that is all that is claimed for nationalisation. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), and others, said that the people who drew up the reorganisation plan were willing, anxious, and able to carry it through. Are they suggesting that the same people will not be willing to carry it through if the industry is nationalised? The point is whether the plan can be carried through more efficiently under national ownership than under private ownership, which has a bad record, as I shall show later.
I think the same hon. Member also said that he advised the Government to take no per cent. control and ownership, and to leave it to them to run the industry. I could not follow what he was talking about. He cannot have it both ways. If the Government take 100 per cent. control of the industry who are the, "they," who are to run it? They are the people who are the brains of the industry, who are underneath, and nobody has any reason to suppose that these brains will not still be there. The best brains are not always to be found on the boards of directors. There is some confusion of thought here. On the boards for every steel manufacturer there are two or three chartered accountants, or expert financiers.
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) was getting at when he was speaking of Skinningrove. The Minister read a letter which was as clear as it could be, that Skinningrove has to go. It is suggested in the Report 1055 that it must go though it may have to be kept going for some time inefficiently, but only until the long term policy can be developed. It is clear that Skinningrove cannot survive. People have objected to the scheme because they say that is the implication. But it is more than that, it is a definite statement that that plant must go. The men who have to fork in it know better than we in this House that it must go, and cannot possibly survive. It would be an absolutely uneconomic plant. I do not know why the right hon. Member for the City of London made such heavy weather over that. I think it is perfectly fair and that people mean what they say. No doubt a little pressure has been put on, in the meantime. Members opposite talk about this enormous amount of money which is to be spent, as though they were setting out on some grand plan of reconstruction. It is not that really. The Report itself said that they are merely maintaining the rate of progress which they had before the war, and which was interrupted by the war. It works out at about £million per annum on a prewar basis if we take postwar costs which they suggest have a 100 per cent. increase. It is the same rate of progress on prewar and comes out at about £7 million per annum. That does not suggest great vision.
Our greatest competitor and biggest exporter of steel in Europe is now out of the market. Yet it is suggested that a reorganised industry can only make provision for half a million tons increase. Do these visionaries expect us, with our biggest competitor gone, to increase our export by no more than half a million tons?
§ Sir W. Smiles
Does that not take into account the increase in the steel industry in India and in South Africa?
§ Mr. Edwards
That may be, but I should have thought that there is a great advantage to exporters here.
§ Mr. Edwards
Yes, but they have to compete with us in Europe. I can take hon. Members back to the days when on the Tees we saw pig iron coming from India into that district; Half our blast furnaces were out—why? Because 50 1056 per cent. of them were nothing more than junk and have been absolutely obsolete for more than 20 years. With all our technical knowledge we have not kept up with our equipment and we saw pig iron coming all that way while billets were coming from the Continent and our men were unemployed. Neither the industry nor the Government of the day could do anything about it. That is a very good argument for a little more Government control.
But I wanted to make a point about this great expansion. I do not think it is a visionary idea at all. There is a steel famine in Europe and immense quantities are needed at home. There is not a word in the Report which says definitely that they can get the money they want. There are such phrases as "It is not improbable " and that kind of thing.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Has the hon. Member heard a single word from the Government Front Bench as to how much money they propose to put into the industry if they nationalise it?
§ Mr. Edwards
I can answer that straight away. They can put whatever money is required into the industry to bring it to the state in which it should be. What is important is that no longer should commercial profit be the dominating influence in the industry. The right hon. Member for Aldershot taunted the Minister with the possibility of having dual control, and said that we might take over a plant up to the billets and would not then know what to do. But t e Government have put forward a perfect plan of integration. It is a plan for coal, iron ore, transport and power, and iron and steel. What more perfect integration do you want in industry than that? I suggest that you cannot do without any one of those things, and if we left out one we would be asking for trouble. We must have absolute control of them all. The Government propose that, and I am very glad they do So.
I come to my own district for a moment. One very strong reason why I support the Minister is that in this industry, as in many others, the leopard does not change its spots. The welfare of thousands of my constituents depends on this industry as there are no other big industries on the Tees, which is almost entirely iron and steel. In the old days, 1057 there was a certain amount of integration but what was it for? For the public benefit, for national security? No. It was gambling in the most reckless manner to get profits and high prices. The right hon. Member for Aldershot dodged this point yesterday, and said he was not expert on this. But he was asked a question on which he is expert, on watered capital. When asked about watered capital, what happened? He was scuttled, and he skedaddled. I will tell the House what watered capital is. Dorman Long's bought in Middlesbrough for £1,250,000 a plant from Samuelson's. it was never worth more than £250,000, and in a comparatively short time it was scrap iron, and never again earned a penny. Dorman Long have had to lease their cost on all that watered capital ever since
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
The hon. Member is not quite right. Dorman Long's wrote millions of share capital down.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is quite right. But up to that point, the watered capital existed. It is true that the workers, many faithful employees, had put their life savings into these shares and they lost their life savings. The pound shares were cut down to 2s. The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) spoke about it here yesterday. The cream of the industry, the essence and the very heart and soul of the industry, put their life savings into the industry, showing their confidence. Eighteen shillings out of every pound was lost. Is that efficiency? I admit that the industry went through a bad time. It was not all its fault. It had some bad luck but nobody who honestly investigates the history of the iron and steel industry in this country dare say that it has been very efficiently managed. For many years Dorman Long never had an executive on a board of directors—never was there a man who had come from the works and had worked his way up, a representative of the men who really made the money and really ran the industry. Time after time, I could trace men from that industry all over the world. There was not much encouragement here in those days. It may be better these days. But one cannot take the position as one sees it today; one has to take the history and see the mentality of those who rim it, and see if it would not be better if the nation itself 1058 had responsibility for these great basic industries.
I am not sure that I would insist on the Government showing a return for the Government's capital. There must be a profit and loss account. There is no substitute for that. There must be proved efficiency. The Minister will be responsible as in the case of the coal industry. I do not see the sense of this—every time the cost of coal goes up three shillings is put on steel. I think this is bad practice. When the industry is privately owned one cannot afford not to do it. When it is Government owned we can do something about it. [HON. MEMBERS: " What? "] Use public money. Use public money as we do for stabilising food prices. I would stabilise coal prices if I were sure it would be economic to do it. Why is it not? If one puts a shilling on coal and then pays 3s. on steel, and other manufacturers have to increase their prices, we have no stability. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could justify using public money to cover that loss because he would be. saving an immense amount more in fie-cycle of production.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
How is the Chancellor saving more money? I cannot follow the argument. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, having got an increase in the cost of coal, if steel costs increase, we should not pass it on to other manufacturers? Where is it to end?
§ Mr. Edwards
If the hon. Gentleman wants assistance, I will help him to reason it out. I wish the House would reason it out. Where does it end? It does not end. It goes round and round until there is a war, and then we use public money without limit. We finish where we were. It is simple enough. If we do not cover it with public money and our price has to go up. the prices of everything—nothing can escape it—must rise and wages must follow Is it not better to absorb that cost in the first instance instead of the last? We pay it in taxes. Is it not cheaper in the long rim to pay a little more tax through the Chancellor than put this increased cost on everything we do?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is the very trade that can be helped, if we can stabilize prices. But if every time the coal price rises by is., steel is 3s. more, how is that going to help?
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
That is prohibited under the commercial agreement with Washington, which the Chancellor signed.
§ Mr. Edwards
And some people find ways of getting over that, but their system will have the same effect.
§ Mr. Bracken
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer present, that some devious methods are going to be used to get over an agreement we have signed with the United States?
§ Mr. Edwards
But if they are being escaped by other countries, he may have to reconsider his policy.
§ Mr. Hudson
This is a most serious statement—if the hon. Gentleman carries his party with him, one of the most serious statements made for a very long time—having regard to the fact that at the present moment the Loan Agreement is going through Congress in the United States on certain assumptions and one of those is that the commercial agreement will be honourably carried out. If hon. Members opposite are going to say there are methods of getting round it, their words will be repeated in Washington with disastrous effects on the Loan.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentlernan will be able to make a speech at a later stage, but he must not do so now.
§ Mr. Edwards
If anything is quoted abroad it will be the right hon. Gentleman's words, not mine. Nothing that I have said would bear the construction he has put upon it. I was arguing the matter from a purely economic point of view, and that is perfectly sound. We should go to the period I was discussing when these agreements were not in existence. The hon. Gentleman must not try to distort my statements. Some figures were quoted today about the cost of steel. We were told that before the war we were selling steel at 10s. a ton lower than America was selling it. The argument was that in spite of our supposed inefficienccy, we were able to sell steel cheaper than America. I have some figures which I want to go on record. Either my figures or those which were quoted are wrong. In 1938 basic pig iron was sold in America for £4 2s. and 1060 in this country £5; rails, £8 in America and £io 2s. 6d. in this country; joists, Rio in America and £ir in this country; plate at £9 10s. in America and £ir 8s. in this country. The arguments fall to the ground if my figures are correct. I am glad to put those side by side with the others. Perhaps one of us will have to withdraw his figures. At least we ought to know where the other figures come from.
It is constantly put forward in arguments from the other side that this great bureaucracy which we are building up is bound to bring us down sooner or later. It has never been admitted on a single occasion on this side of the House that there is to be a bureaucracy. The whole efforts of the Government are to find a form of control which would be more efficient and not less efficient than the methods in the industry today. I admit quite frankly that one cannot do that with a vast bureaucracy, and the present Government will fail if they slip into a bureaucracy. Hon. Members must not continue to advance that argument as though it were accepted that because the industry will be government owned there will be a vast bureaucracy and the inefficiency associated with bureaucracy. That is an entirely false and dishonest argument.
§ Mr. Edwards
I could tell the hon. Gentleman if there was time. There are many ways—some very simple. Perhaps my method will be too simple for the present Government, so I will not go into it now. We could get beneficial ownership without very much trouble at all—pretty much the same way as we got beneficial ownership of Imperial Airways. I think to buy the shares of the company would be a very short cut. If the Minister wants to own a particular industry, he could take shares in that and get beneficial ownership quickly, and could decide improvements and management later.
§ Mr. Edwards
Perhaps that is the best way to do it. I do not want to see all kinds of boards superimposed on industry. It might be very dangerous and 1061 there are the elements, at least, of bureaucracy there which I hope we shall avoid, and I have no reason to suppose that we shall not be able to do so. If we could get ownership in a simple way, however—perhaps I am over-simplifying it—I hope at least 'the Government will give some thought to it, but it is not honest of lion. Members opposite to make speeches based on the assumption that there will be in the control of this industry a vast bureaucracy, because there is no foundation for it. There may be suspicion. Well, we have had suspicion about private industry for many years. Such bureaucracy as we have in this country has been built up by hon. Members opposite under Tory Governments, for we have never had an opportunity to build up a bureaucracy. So such red tape and bureaucracy as exists is entirely the fault of Tory Governments, and I hope hon. Members will cease to base their speeches on that particular false assumption.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
I have listened to almost every speech made so far in this Debate, and the more I hear from hon. Members opposite, the more obvious it becomes that there is only one real reason why they want to nationalise the iron and steel industry. That reason was revealed last week in an article in the "Tribune," from which I will quote:Steel is a basic industry, and those who control its fate must wield tremendous political power.This revealing statement by a Socialist publication at once betrays the whole object of hon. Members opposite. It also reveals once again the Socialist determination that no one except Socialists shall have any political say whatsoever. Incidentally, the statement completely overlooks the fact that before the war the industry was virtually governed by a State committee, which had statutory responsibility to safeguard the interests of the consumer and the community as a whole, and that the industry has made it amply clear that it welcomes a continuation of this supervision and indeed would be the first to agree that such supervision would always be necessary in the national interest. It is true that several somewhat abortive attempts have been made by the Minister arid by hon. Members opposite to justify this extraordinary decision, this 1062 piece of purely political folly, by producing one or two rather thin arguments.
First of all, there is the old well-worn if not threadbare mandate, of which we have heard so much. But if anybody voted for the Socialist Government because the iron and steel industry was to be nationalised, which I very much doubt, they could only have clone so in the belief that the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry would benefit the consumer. No one wants to become a shareholder in the iron and steel industry against his will by paying higher taxes than necessary. The only reason they voted for it was because they really believed that the consumer would benefit. If that is so, why is it that not one single user of steel, or any organised body representing steel users, has yet raised his voice in welcoming the advantages which the Government claim will accrue from the public ownership of the industry? On the contrary, the National Union of Manufacturers, the most important single body in this country, representing 4,003 firms who depend on steel products, came out categorically yesterday with the following statement:British manufacturers want an adequate supply of iron and steel at prices which enable them to compete in the markets of the world, both in regard to direct sales and in the provision of machinery for our industrial population. The industry's own plan is designed to achieve this with the least possible delay.Surely, that is clear enough, and if the consumers do not want nationalisation; if the consumers are quite satisfied with the plan produced by the industry, then I submit that all the mandates in the world will not justify the Government's decision.
Secondly, the Minister tried to justify himself by saying that the industry had become a private monopoly. He complained that a previous Government had encouraged this state of affairs and had protected the industry by a tariff. What he should have said was that a previous Government encouraged the industry to unite in the national interest; it encouraged give and take within the industry, with the object of achieving the maximum saving in costs by the greatest possible degree of integration, both within a single plant and on a basis of inter-district planning. These aims hold good today, and they are the main aims behind the industry's plan in addition, of course, to the modernising of the plants con 1063 cerned. With regard to the protective tariff, I think it is generally acknowledged that this marked the turning point in the fortunes of the industry. If from the Minister's sneers at this tariff we are to assume that he intends to abolish it, then let me assure him that it will be the quickest possible way to plunge the industry back into the parlous condition in which it was left by the last Labour administration in 1931, when they were forced to hand over to a more competent Government.
We have also had some highly misleading figures given to us on the question of prices. The fallacy of those figures has been exposed by other speakers, notably by the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) and by the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan). However, I think there is one point in regard to prices which cannot be over-emphasised, and that is that the greatest single factor in the price of steel is the price of coal. British steel makers are now paying twice as much for their coal as American steel makers, and hon. Members opposite, when they talk about competition in world markets, should realise that in competition with the American steel maker, the British steel maker starts off with a disadvantage of $8.50 per ton due to the cost of coal alone.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
In view of what the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) told the House, are these prices for coal delivered or at the pit mouth?
§ Mr. Ward
I do not agree at all. If the Minister can tell me how the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry is going to reduce the price of coal by one penny, it would be a very interesting piece of information. That, I am certain, is the only way in which he can possibly keep the price of steel down, but I am not going to enter into an argument with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. A. Edwards) about his rather quaint way of coping with that situation merely by handing the loss over to the taxpayer.
1064 The point I did want to emphasise is that for the last ten years the steel industry has submitted to open public supervision of its prices and price policy. There has been nothing underhand, and its present plans assume that such supervision will continue. That has been made abundantly clear by the industry. The Minister of Supply very properly paid a tribute to the industry for its proud achievements during the war, but he somewhat spoilt his tribute I thought by claiming a large part of the credit for Government control without which, he insinuated, the industry would not have been run so well. How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that with his later statement that the divorce of ownership from control will not work? Hon. Members opposite are very fond of saying that because Government control of industry worked so well during the war it must automatically work well in peace, but it now appears that, although it worked very well during the war, it will not work in peace. It is sometimes very difficult to follow their arguments. What they are not prepared to admit is that it was the self discipline which the industry imposed upon itself in the national interest which was the secret of its success.
The Minister asserted that the Federation would be unable to impose its will on the industry. That point has been touched upon by other speakers, notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). Of over 400 undertakings the Minister could only cite three which had raised their voices in any sort of protest, and even then that was proved today by the right hon. Member for the City of London to be not quite so accurate as we thought yesterday. How does the Minister's assertion square up with that of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who suggested yesterday that when the right hon. Member for the City of London sneezed the industry caught cold? Hon. Members opposite really cannot have it both ways.
Of course, the Federation was very well aware that its plan would not be accepted by everybody in the industry without protest. That was not its aim. The aim of the plan has been made amply clear, and the Federation was perfectly prepared to take firm action in the best interests of the industry as a whole provided it received the backing and approval of the Government. It would, of course, have no diffi- 1065 culty whatever in forcing its will on the industry had the Government given their approval to the scheme in principle. Immediately, the rather burning questions, such as the location of industry, could have been very easily solved by discussion with the industry, and the Government would have found the industry fully prepared to co-operate and to meet the Government half way in discussing the problem of the upheaval of social life in various areas. These difficult problems should have been tackled on the basis of discussion between the Government and the industry without loss of time.
I submit that as a massive, intricate, and courageous plan, the Federation's blueprint can hardly be improved upon. Indeed, I think the Government are extremely fortunate to have such a solid foundation on which to build their flimsy and impermanent fabric of management from Whitehall. One can only prophesy that such an enterprise will founder. In my view it will prove to be the costliest national experiment and the costliest piece of Socialist research this country has ever seen and, ironically enough, this is the country in which the fundamental processes of steel making have their origin.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)
Right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so far have, for the most part, either been associated with the iron and steel industry or have actually represented steel producing constituencies. For myself I lack either of those qualifications but I feel urged to speak for other reasons. I was born in South Wales; and as I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking I recalled very vividly how the people of the countryside were delighted by the red glow at night of the furnaces over the Dowlais works near where I was born. It meant that men were at work. I recalled also how far more frequently than that gladdening phenomenon, the people of that region saw derelict furnaces, derelict villages, and derelict men. I feel that on both sides of the House we all hope that it will not need another war to bring prosperity to that region and to other regions of the same kind.
For that reason, in approaching this great basic British industry we must do so with open minds, and consider the 1066 whole question of nationalisation or reorganisation on its merits. At certain points the decision will cut across parties. For example, in the City of Coventry which I represent in part, it is not only the workers who in the past have felt that something should be done in order w make the price of steel competitive with that of other countries, but the employers too have thought the same. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply yesterday referred to something that Lord Nuffield had said about the cost of steel during the 1930's. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that in Coventry, as a steel consuming city, as a city where steel is fabricated both for the home market and for export, there was considerable dissatisfaction at the steel shackles which were laid on its capacity to compete both in the domestic and the world markets. Quite clearly, unless the motor industry and also the machine-tool industry can purchase steel at world competitive prices, our own industry will be hampered and prevented from competing effectively in world markets once the present boom has come to an end. For that reason we are concerned about the question of obtaining steel cheaply.
We can quite understand in Coventry that the iron and steel industry wants to be protected. At the same time, even if the iron and steel industry were fertilised with all the generosity and guarded by all the tariffs which a benevolent Government might bestow upon it, it would still be necessary, at a certain point, for steel to be produced in this country at prices which are competitive in the world market. I wish to quote only one current price in order to show the handicap from which the motor industry is suffering at the present time. Twenty gauge cold rolled close annealed steel, delivered to the British motor manufacturer, now costs £23 per ton. In the United States exactly the same steel costs, delivered, the equivalent of £20 3s. 8d, As various hon. Members have pointed out, that is not due to the fact that the worker in the British steel industry is the beneficiary of this increased price. The average wage for a worker in the British steel industry, working a 50 hour week, was 2s. 6d. per hour last July, In the United States last December the average wage of a worker in the steel industry working a 40 hour week, was 45. 6d. per hour. I do not say that to the disadvantage of the British steel in- 1067 dustry or in order to deprecate its intentions.
On both sides of the House we must congratulate the workers, technicians and the people who directed the policy of the iron and steel industry in the last ten years, on the way in which they made a contribution, first of all to the effort of rearmament, and finally to the provision of iron and steel and iron and steel products during the war. At the same time, we must all recognise that the existing equipment of the iron and steel industry is either obsolete, obsolescent or old fashioned.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Surely the hon. Member does not intend to leave that point of comparing American prices with British prices without referring to the difference in quantity and the continuous strip mills which the Americans run? He ought to refer to the great advantage which these give them in offsetting the wages difference to which he has quite fairly referred.
§ Mr. Edelman
I was not describing our own industry to its disadvantage when comparing it with the American industry. I was only stating the fact that at the present time, our own industry, for various reasons—possibly because the Americans started later than we and thus have more modern equipment—is at a disadvantage as compared with the American iron and steel industry.
The task before the country is not only to overtake American industry but to surpass it, and once again take the lead in Europe and the world. That is the problem to which we have to address ourselves on both sides of the House. How is that to be clone. On this side of the House it is suggested that nationalisation is the method by which we will be able to re-equip and re-organise our iron and steel industry, and give it a lead over the other steel industries of the world. On the other side of the House there is the idea that the iron and steel industry can be reorganised and integrated in its present federative form, and that in that way it can go ahead, and not only obtain better results than nationalisation, but continue to make the progress which hon. Members consider it has been making since the Federation was formed.
1068 In order to try to make some kind of prognosis of how the iron and steel industry would develop if it were left alone in its present form, I would draw the attention of hon. Members to a most interesting document which was published during the war, under the signature of 120 leading industrialists. It was called " A National Policy for Industry." Amongst the signatories were the Earl of Dudley, Lord McGowan, Sir Cecil Weir and a number of equally distinguished industrialists, who have made incalculable contributions to the industry of this country. If one reads that document one sees that here indeed is a plan for industry. Here, in the opening paragraph, one first of all finds a description of how capital and labour should work together, and of how industry should have close relations with the Government. Then, in succeeding paragraphs, the document sets out what I might call a Charter of Labour. In this charter it describes the objectives it has in mind for the workers in industry. It suggests that industry should work in close association with the trade unions; holidays for workers; a working week with restricted hours and various other social and working benefits which would clearly be of the greatest advantage to workers. It also suggests what the function of the trade unions should be in relation to industry. There should be partnership, but the trade unions should be the junior partners in this arrangement, with a consultative voice in industry, but in no sense a voice in management.
Then, this document goes on to describe what the actual organisational structure of industry should be in this country. It suggests that there should, first of all, he a close integration of all the firms in any given industry in a trade association or federation, and that these in turn should he federated into a National Council of Industry. As I read this document it seemed to me that certain of its features were familiar—a charter of labour, the national council of industry, partnership between industry and the trade unions; and, finally, and this is the most important, the idea—although it was explicitly disclaimed it was implicit throughout the whole document—of self-government of industry. The Council should decide policy for all those things which affect industry, while the Government should merely be a ratifying instrument, a sort of 1069 rubber stamp for the decisions made by the National Council.
That policy for industry seems to me to be the perfect picture of the corporate State. It may be that the corporate State has certain rational and reasonable organisational forms but beginning from the most important and, in my view, improper premise that industry should be self-governing. We on this side of the House believe that once there is a Government within a Government and a State within a State, a death blow is dealt to democracy. For that reason the iron and steel industry, a great basic industry of this country, should not he left in the hands of one great private monopolising Federation. That, I submit, is the answer to some of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), who I regret is not in his place.
We have, therefore, this choice. Either industry assumes the powers which it assumed throughout Europe in the corporate State—and in parenthesis it may be relevant to say that during the 193as the whole impulse to the corporate State began with the great iron and steel monopolisers—or the other alternative is the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry and its development according to public policy. The alternative is not merely to relate it to public policy, hut to make the functioning of the iron and steel industry a direct part of public policy.
In these postwar years we have to deal with certain very great problems affecting the industry. They are not merely domestic problems. They are problems which affect the whole of Europe. What is going to happen to the Ruhr? Is the level of steel production in Europe to be determined by one big; monopoly in this country entering into cartel arrangements with an iron and steel monoply in another country, or is the level of steel production to be determined as a matter of public policy? The whole question of the protection and care of the iron and steel industry is bound up with these very grave public decisions. Other hon. Members have mentioned the question of raising money for schemes of development on which I think we are all agreed. If that money is to be raised, protected and guaranteed as a gilt-edged security, surely it should be used only 1070 in a national instrument which is serving the public and not merely a sectional policy.
Finally, I turn to the question of the form of nationalisation. The Lord President of the Council has written a most excellent and, if I may say so, well conceived book on transport and nationalisation. It merits careful study because in it the Lord President gave a forecast of certain forms of nationalised industry which he felt it might be desirable at some future time to introduce in this country. He also describes the sort of Board which should administer a nationalised industry. If it is suggested that in the iron and steel industry we should have such an instrument of control and direction I think we should go beyond that and try to draw into the industry all those people who combine together in order to make the industry work. At present, there is the London Passenger and Transport Board —a most efficient public undertaking—bat I have never heard a bus driver or conductress talk about " Our L P T.B."I think it is very important in the nationalised iron and steel industry that the workers, the technicians, and the managers should really feel that they are part of the industry. The technicians and managers must be given the opportunity of realising that in nationalised industry they have as much scope and opportunity of advancement as they had under private ownership, and even more. In that way, ultimately, the workers in the industry, the technicians, the managers and the practical directors will be able to speak of " our industry " as in other connections they speak of " our country."
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
I listened with much attention to the long and interesting argument of the hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman), which involved us in considerations of the relationship of the iron and steel industry to a corporate State. They were argument:, which, from his point of view, consisted of building up the ninepins of a corporate State and then knocking them down. I do not wish to follow him in those arguments because I hope to take up only a short time. Since I think he destroyed both sides of his case equally well, it probably is unnecessary for anybody on this side of the House to take him up. The hon. Member also 1071 entered into certain comparisons between prices in the markets of the United States and this country. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Egbaston (Sir P. Bennett), he omitted a great many considerations. Amongst other things, he omitted any mention of the cost of coal. I have listened to most of the speeches which have been made in this House during the last two days, and I have been conscious of a great unreality when hon. Members opposite began to compare prices. I do not find it valuable to enter into discussion with the hon. Gentleman any further.
The points I want to make this evening concern what I consider to be the fundamental issue raised by the Motion before the House. We are not dealing with the Government's proposals to nationalise this industry because no proposals have been made. We are dealing with the decision of the Government to make the proposals. The issue between us, as summed up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, is whether or not public supervision, which we all admit is necessary, can be combined with private ownership and private management. It is not a straightforward issue in this instance between private enterprise, on the one hand, and public control, on the other. The " Daily Herald "In one of its cartoons this morning seems to have forgotten that. No doubt the cartoon was made before the Debate yesterday. The issue before the House, as I understand it, and as is agreed at least between the two Front Benches, is that which I have given. We say it can be so combined; the Government say it cannot be so combined. Our arguments are based, fortunately for us, on experience. Everybody agrees that not only during the war, but in the years immediately before the war, which mattered so much, the industry was working at the highest pressure; without what was done in those days we should now be in a very different state from that in which we are today. We should have been in a parlous condition.
It has been pointed out by many hon. Gentlemen opposite that during the war the industry was operating under a fairly tight control by the Government. Iii saying that, surely, they at once admit that the industry can be carried on 1072 excellently under this public supervision at the same time as it is being privately owned. Not only can it be carried on, but, as I hope hon. Members will remember, it can also be expanded. Under public supervision, between 1933 and 1939, as we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan), the industry carried out a planned programme of expansion. I thought I detected in something said by the Minister of Supply an argument that, though perhaps the industry could work at full pressure, as it is working now under public supervision combined with private ownership, it could never put through a proper planned expansion. Our experience shows that argument to be quite wrong. The relationship between the steel industry and the nation obviously is a vital point which concerns all hon. Members. It is for that reason that I, claiming none of the qualifications of many hon. Members who have spoken, dare to intervene in this Debate. I believe it was for that reason that the hon. Member for West Coventry also dared to intervene.
The Government of 1932, which was a Government of the party that I represent, accepted the fact that it was part of their duty to assist and, in assisting, to interfere in the running of this industry. During the next few years a system was worked out of which we have heard a concise and very clear summary from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. One can read of the great value at that time of the Iron and Steel Federation and of the Import Duties Advisory Committee.
During the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I have been tempted to ask myself once or twice whether or not they have read the excellent May Report of 1937. As a result of this interference and control, or self-discipline, of the industry by the Iron and Steel Federation, it is true to say that competition in prices was ruled out. As everyone knows, competition in prices is the worst form of competition. What exists today, and what we on this side hope will always exist, is competition in quality, technique and research. It is my belief that, if we dismiss and destroy all those forms of competition, we shall be doing great harm to the future of industry and, since it is recognised that industry is the keystone of our life and security as well as of our 1073 prosperity, we shall be doing the gravest harm to the country.
The Government are obviously having some difficulty in working out proposals for nationalisation. I noticed that, when the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) dared to put up constructive proposals, he was not greeted with much applause from his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I have no doubt that many such bubbles as that of his constructive proposals which both he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) assisted in bursting, have burst in Government Departrnents in recent days. I would stress the importance of competition because it affects the quality on which I have always believed that the future of the industries of this country must be based. We, as an exporting country, must rely much mote on quality than on quantity. That, of course, is true not only of industry, but, for the time being at any rate, of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House. We also rely on quality rather than quantity.
It having been accepted that the Government have a duty to assist and, perhaps, to regulate, control and supervise a part of this industry, not only in prices, but also where the placing of the industry and its expansion affect social conditions, and in keeping up import tariffs and in the matter of labour conditions which, in this case, are fortunately not much of a problem, surely, the Government's duty was to busy themselves with finding a scheme which would deal bit by bit with those problems. How best could they control prices, ensure that the industry did not interfere with social conditions, and that the tariffs, and so on, were in keeping with the needs of the industry? What have they done instead? They have taken the dead easy course; they have adopted their party dogma and said, " All this will be cured if we nationalise industry and take over the ownership of it."
What we on this side of the House would have done—I believe I am right in this—would have been to look into this matter and see how best, with the least, not with the most, interference of the industry, we might effect our desire of supervision. Instead, the Government have chosen nationalisation. I do not want to labour this point any more, but 1074 the Lord President has insisted that the burden of proof for those who choose nationalisation is to show that it is going to work best. That burden of proof has not in any way been carried out. We on this side of the House have, for our case, the Report of the Iron and Steel Industry. Instead of the Government putting down their answer in the White Paper so that we might in its cold, unemotional pages test one scheme against the other, they have come to this House and have put up what seem to me very faulty and specious arguments. They have left it to the House to destroy, if we can—and we obviously cannot—the excellent case which my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London has put forward.
I have been trying hard to find out the real reason for the Government's policy. I am bound to agree with what some of my hon. Friends have put forward today, that the Government do not really want to control the steel industry; they want to get their teeth into that great engineering industry on which the prosperity and the future security of the country are based. That is a very different thing from what they say they are doing and what they ask us to approve today. I hope that whoever is to reply to this Debate will at least set our minds at rest one way or the other and tell us whether the Government do, or do not, intend to get such a hold over the engineering industry that it, too, will be, if not nationalised in fact, nationalised in effect.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
I rise to ram home a point that was touched upon incidentally by three speakers yesterday, but which has not yet been made. I refer to the fact that, in nationalising the iron and steel industry, the Government will also take a big step towards carrying out Labour's long standing pledge to nationalise the arms industry. In the years between the wars, when Labour pressed successive Conservative Governments to nationalise the arms industry, we were always told that it was not possible to separate that industry from the rest of heavy industry and, in particular, from the iron and steel industry. I accept that argument, but I reverse its application. I accept the statement made by the Minister of Supply yesterday that the iron and steel industry is one of the keystones of our military defence and I ask, there- 1075 fore, that the Government should make it clear that, when deciding upon what sections of the iron and steel industry are to be nationalised, they will bear in mind the desirability of effectively taking the private profit making motive out of the business of arms manufacture. The case for doing that is very strong and should be familiar to all. It was so strongly the view held at the end of the first world war that it was actually included in the Covenant. The question arose again over the scandal of the war between Bolivia and Peru in the Chaco, when both sides were armed by arms manufacturers in spite of the war having been outlawed by all the Governments.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Of course; I am sorry—I should have remembered. The problem is important also because the Charter calls for the regulation of armaments. When we address ourselves to that subject we find, as was found in the years between the wars, that the regulation of armaments is in practice inseparable from public ownership and control of the manufacture of and trade in arms. In carrying out this policy the Labour Party will be fulfilling not only its election pledges in " Let Us Face the Future," but explicit and longstanding pledges of which I will quote only the last two. One was in our report on the International Post-War Settlement, when the Labour Party stated that whatever other nations do all British arms and munitions, including aircraft, should be made in Government factories; and the other was the pledge given by the National Executive at the Blackpool Conference in 1935 just before the General Election, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said:Our party has always stood for the abolition of the private trade in and manufacture of arms. We stand for it today. We are pledged to the hilt and our pledges will be carried through.I rejoice to think that in the Motion which is before the House the Government are taking the first step to carry out these pledges. After the moving appeals made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite only last week as to the importance of fulfilling pledges to the electorate, I should have thought that they would have appreciated and applauded the determination of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side to carry out our 1076 pledges regarding the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, including the arms industry. In any case, whatever hon. Members opposite may think about this, there is no doubt that there is an overwhelmingly strong public opinion in favour of the nationalisation of the arms industry. That was demonstrated between the wars in the famous " Peace through Collective Security " ballot, when million votes were cast for the nationalisation of the arms industry. I believe that public opinion is still in the same frame of mind about that as it was when it was described by Lord Halifax, in a speech he made on 27th March, 1945, which was reported in the Press at the time; he said:The great majority of the people of this country conceive this question of the private manufacture of and the trade in armaments to be directly connected with the great issues of peace and war on which they feel more deeply and more vehemently than upon anything else. Therefore, regarding war as they do as the greatest evil to which the nation can be exposed, and regarding it indeed as only justifiable in cases of ultimate and extreme national necessity, they are, if I interpret their feelings at all aright, disposed to regard the preparation of the implements of war as too high and too grave a thing to be entrusted to any hands less responsible than those of the State itself, fearing any intrusion into so dangerous a field of any interests less imperative than those of national security and national necessity.I believe that in nationalising the iron and steel industry we shall be satisfying that very deeply-felt and strong public opinion on this issue. In addition to the arguments of efficiency and human needs and standards of living, we can add to the reasons for supporting this Motion the overwhelmingly powerful moral and political argument that we shall be nationalising the arms industry.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
May I interrupt a moment? In view of the very interesting points the hon. Gentleman has made, I hope that he will deal shortly with the result of the nationalisation of the arms industry in Germany and Italy.
§ 7.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
This Debate really divides itself into two parts: first, why the Government are taking this action, and second, how they propose to carry it out. There has been a mass of mixed reasons put forward as to why; even the Minister himself.got so inextricably mixed up, that he came to the point when, as usual, he had to rely on the stock argument of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and trot out the good old horse " Mandate."In his excellent speech last night the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite) used racecourse metaphor, and I should like to indulge in it too. Let us first examine this Mandate—the only horse in the Government's stable. What is its pedigree? " Mandate, by Mistake out of Control."It runs in every single race, whether it is a little selling plate of a one-Clause Bill, whether it is a great autumn handicap—and we have had a few handicaps from the other side—or whether it is one of the classics. " Mandate " always comes out to run for the Government. The only difference is in the jockeys. The leading jockey, of course, is " Hustling Herbert," whom we are to hear tonight. I have some fear that he is in trouble with the stewards and may not be able to appear.
The other reasons put forward were very unconvincing indeed. We had a dissertation from several Members on the boards of the various companies in this industry, and their reason for nationalisation seemed to be a sort of reverse Keith Prowse reason—" You have the best seats, we want them."That come out from several speeches, the idea that if you nationalise the industry it will give great opportunities for the faithful adherents of the Government on the other side to appear in the rôle—for which they are, I think, ill-fitted—of running this highly complex and important national industry. I believe that the real reason for nationalisation is that the Government can hardly help themselves. They are in the position of the hungry python, which does not eat very often, but, when it does, is moved to eat everything in sight, crush it out of shape, smother it with the saliva of propaganda, and then start to eat it. Once it has started to eat it just cannot stop, and this Government, having started on the meal 1078 of nationalisation, with the Bank of England and coal beforehand, must go on with its meal. I should like to point out that after this very large and indigestible meal, the python goes to sleep, very often for a year at a time, and I have an idea that when we come to the end of nationalisation that is what will happen to the Government.
But the real, the vital, reason behind this move is the same as that which we saw in the Debate on the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. An economic decision is being made, not on economic but on purely political grounds. This is one more rung in the ladder that the Government are climbing to complete power. This is power politics naked and unashamed, and the Chancellor himself, at one moment in his speech today, gave the show away by saying that this would go down to history as a very great moment, because at this moment we had taken over, and were going to take over, the ultimate control of an industry whose fingers reached out into practically every small industry in this country. It is being done not on sound economic grounds, but on unproved political theories. Another fine idea popped out from the opposite side during the Debate as a reason for taking this industry over, and it was the reason that Bismarck gave when he was driving through the City of London in a great procession. He looked around at the great, wonderful and well organised city and his admiration, just like the admiration that the Minister gives to the iron and steel industry, was expressed in these terms: " What a city to plunder."
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
I think the hon. 'Member has made a mistake and that it was not Bismarck who said that, but Blücher.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I would like to refer now to what are called "The years between "The two wars. We have heard a rather garbled version of what really happened. After the last war, what faced those who were responsible for running this industry? Very difficult decisions. Some of those people took the decision to be very enterprising and go-getting, by expanding and raising money for various sorts of enterprises. The other people thought that we were approaching an economic crisis and that it was right to conserve their capital and liquid assets. The fate of those two groups was very different. 1079 The fact remains that both of them were hit by an economic blizzard of undoubted magnitude. It is worth pointing out to the Chancellor, who is slightly selective in his examples, that it was a universal blizzard. It came just as much upon countries with Socialist Governments as it did upon countries with other kinds of Governments. It swept over countries of every sort of political complexion without taking any notice whether there was a sign saying, " Don't come in here. This is a well-organised, well-planned and Socialist country, and we don't like economic blizzards."It left behind a vast devastation.
If hon. Members opposite are honest with themselves they will not take up the attitude of saying that they could have foreseen everything and could have planned everything and done everything very much better. The truth is that economic blizzards will never be totally avoided. Their effects may be modified and should be modified, but I would warn hon. and right hon. Gentle. men opposite that with all their planning, economic blizzards will fall upon them in due course and will affect them very greatly. What did this industry do? It was the one industry that realised the disaster that had fallen upon them, upon industry in general, and upon the world. It pulled itself together and produced something like a really well-thought-out plan. We have heard a great deal about the Socialist planned State from the other side of the House. Here indeed was an example that might well weaken their case. This industry put its own house in order. I have always been told that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than in the others that went not astray. Here was a semi-sinner which not only repented but found out a new path to righteousness. Nevertheless there will be no reward on earth for it. Having put itself in order it will find that there will be no mercy for it in the hearts of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who will kill it stone dead by nationalising it, in spite of the fact that it has seen the errors of its ways in many directions and has put them right.
If, as we have heard today, this is only the beginning of the first batch of nationalisation proposals and is to be followed by a sort of hauling of the rest of the industry up before a committee 1080 to be examined and put on the spot—to use an American expression—it will knock the heart out of the industry. This industry has, in many ways been a pioneer in showing how the effects of economic blizzards can be handled. The argument is put forward that this industry is both a monopoly and a cartel. I do not like monopolies or cartels, for a reason that hon. Members may find difficult to believe. I object to them because of their size. When an industry or a firm, or a group of companies, gets to that size, it loses its human element. The management is unable to keep in touch with the day-to-day problems not only of the workers, but of the management and scientific sides as well. Nevertheless there are certain industries which call out for some form of monopoly. I believe that this is one of the few—although it should not establish a precedent—which by its very nature, call out for that form of treatment.
As for cartels, I am surprised there should be an attack from the other side of the House on this industry for joining an international cartel for the regulation of prices. I have heard vehement arguments from the Chancellor to show how extremely important it is to stabilise food and other prices, at great cost to the taxpayer. Indeed, the whole Bretton Woods international trade agreement must mean, if it means anything at all, some form of international price regulation. If that is not adhered to it is no use trying to arrive at international trade agreements. I notice reluctance on the part of His Majesty's Government to go into this particular question. We were told by the President of the Board of Trade last October that these meetings were so vital that we should hold them almost immediately. Now they have been put off for another six months because of the extreme difficulty, in a chaotic world of varying prices and production costs of raw materials and labour, of arriving at anything like a method of proper price-fixing which will give a fair deal to all countries.
In this industry, after years of close working and hard bargaining of great difficulty, an international price agreement was arrived at which, though not perfect.by any means, was at least showing very good results, so far as this country was concerned, and there was no undue complaint from other countries. I would like to ask His Majesty's Govern- 1081 ment to tell us quite clearly, after the criticisms that have been levelled at cartels by the Ministry, whether they agree with price-fixing cartels, as foreseen in the Bretton Woods Agreement, or whether they will state openly now that they do not? Unless they make that point perfectly clear, the criticism which they have thrown at this great industry for its adherence to cartels has no meaning at all.
§ Mr. Mayhew (Norfolk, Southern)
To what price-fixing agreement at Bretton Woods does the hon. Member refer?
§ Mr. Fletcher
The whole essence of the Bretton Woods international trade agreement is fixing of prices, as has been seen with commodities.
§ Mr. Fletcher
We shall have to wait and see, to use an old Liberal phrase. There have been considerable attacks upon the profit motive. I am always surprised that the word " profit "Is selected in that phrase as being the operative word. I think the word " motive "Is the operative word. The idea of motive has something to do with a machine which moves and works towards a target. I am afraid that if we try to substitute for a profit motive a Government-controlled stagnation, we shall not make real progress: I have yet to find in a Government office that urge to do and to improve, to get things going and to take commercial risks, such as you find in private industry working in partnership with the State.
This brings me to the very important question raised in the Chancellor's speech today. It was very interesting to notice the offer made by the Chancellor, with that large hearted generosity which we are beginning to expect from him—a slightly vicarious generosity with other people's money—and made to this industry, or at any rate to that part of the industry which he is going to take over later on. It was an offer of money at fixed interest rates on the low side. I believe that there is a vice in that idea. The whole essence of industry and commerce is the taking of commercial risks. Commerce and industry in this country have been built up by the shrewd appraisement of those risks, how and when to take them and how to handle 1082 them. If industry is to. be reduced to the level of " safety first," with its capital in fixed interest bearing securities, one of the most important elements will be taken out of it. That is one of the chief vices of the Government's proposal to nationalise everything; it will stop the main object for which men consort together and create firms and businesses, which is the judicious taking of the right commercial risk. It was the ability which this country displayed over centuries to do that all over the world that created our commercial supremacy. We have supremacy no longer, but that ability still gives us, and is capable of giving us, a great commercial role. If we are to be relegated to the role of cheap borrowing at fixed interest, without taking risks, I think the prospect before this country is very bad.
In nearly every Debate on nationalisation, there is a stock and standard argument that is made by hon. Members opposite. It is that there has been lack of scientific research. I believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite look upon scientific research and science as their own private preserve, and I believe that the Minister of Supply is in due course to have under him the whole question of scientific research. I was brought up to believe that " necessity was the mother of invention," and I presume that, with the powers that are to be given to him, the Minister of Supply will become the mother-in-law of invention. The relationship between mothers-in-law and other members of families is notoriously not an easy one I predict that there will be less active and wide-ranging scientific research under that form of Government control than the industry has displayed in the past. The enormous sums that have been expended in this industry, not only by large but by the smaller firms—many of them in Sheffield—are among the greatest refutations of the argument that the industry is unfit to carry on in its present form. If there were a case to be made against the industry for not having gone sufficiently into scientific research, I have not the slightest doubt it would have been made from the Benches opposite. It has not been made.
The question of exports and prices should occupy the attention of all of us. I thought the Chancellor let slip today a rather unwise remark when, in talking about exports, he said that production was 1083 the only guide. It is not so. There must be competitive and efficient production. The word " efficiency," which we all use, and to which we give our own interpretation, has entered into the Debate; as into all Debates on nationalisation, very largely. I wonder whether it would be possible for common ground to be found on both sides of the House as to what efficiency is. One thing is certain. Whatever we may think it to be, when we get over the period of the sellers' market and get into the area in which the cold winds of competition will blow again, we shall find out very soon whether what the Government may officially term an " efficient industry " really is one. No powers, no mandate, given to the present Government can compel any third party in another country to buy the goods produced here. It is only when those goods come into the open market, in competition with goods produced in countries which enjoy certain great advantages, such as the United States of America, that we shall be able to judge whether or not the policy on which the Government are now entering is a correct one.
I believe that as the industry has been organised up to date, on a true partnership basis with the State, it would have been able easily to meet that competition. It has an enormous good will. Throughout the world that good will reaches out from hundreds of small firms, as well as big firms. which have their connections in other countries, built up by personal contact and esteem. I beseech the Government, in no circumstances, however much they are impelled by theory or by the impatience of those who wish to see their theories put into practice as soon as possible, to break down the most valuable thing which there is in any industry or firm, that is, the good will.
How are the Government going to carry out their plans? They do not know. The position seems to be rather like the Minister inviting his good friends in the industry to a game of bridge. He deals round the cards and he says, " Now, boys, before we start let me have a look at your cat'ds." He selects those cards he wants, and then he says, "I am going to declare trumps and I am going to win; the game is in my hands."That is what the Government are asking us to do. They say, " Give us a blank 1084 cheque to nationalise the industry; let us make use, on the basis of loyalty and cooperation, of the industry as it is organised today, and when we have picked out everything that is valuable, we will say, ' Thank you, very much, we will give you some Government stock, alienable or inalienable, just as the fancy suits us at that particular moment.' "If that is the method to be adopted, there is disaster in front of us. But we can also have salvation in front of us. Having thrown this sop of nationalisation in this form to their Cerberuses on the Left, having said, " We have fulfilled our mandate "—which cannot be a very strong one, because I do not think the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry appeared in the Gracious Speech —having gone that far and had a big public Debate on it, if the Government will soften the decision by the wisdom of the method used in putting it into operation, they can still save this great industry, and what it can bring to us in every way, from disaster.
If they do not, I can only close by saying that I think their attitude can best be summed up in the words of a very great man who was a Member and an ornament of the House for many years, the late Lord Birkenhead; he was being interrupted too often in a court of law on very trivial points and got rather restive, so that when the final quite trivial and unimportant point was made by his opponent, he said, " My Lord, this is the very bankruptcy of forensic interference."I have a feeling that unless a rather different angle is taken by the Government in the method of nationalising this industry, it will go down to history as the " very bankruptcy of forensic interference."
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
I wish to refer to some of the speeches that have been made by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said that he was against monopolies because he thought the size of monopolies represented a danger. The hon. Gentleman should have been in the House when his colleague the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was speaking, because the hon. Member for Monmouth eulogised monopolies. He said that the iron and steel industry was a monopoly 1085 and he went on to praise monopolies, saying that they were very desirable in certain industries, and he asked why in the circumstances did the Government want to nationalise the iron and steel industry. He exercised his brain to find some reason.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I think the hon. Member is misrepresenting the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) in saying that he praised monopolies. I think that when the hon. Member reads HANSARD tomorrow, he will wish to withdraw his remark. It may be that he misunderstood the arguments used by my hon. Friend, who certainly did not praise monopolies.
§ Mr. House
I think I am right. I think the hon. Member for Monmouth did say that the industry represented a monopoly and he praised that aspect of the industry. I thought that in saying that he was conceding the case for the Government. It should have been obvious to him why the Government want to nationalise the industry, because the Minister said in his opening speech that the issue was not one of nationalisation versus private enterprise but nationalisation versus monopoly. Having heard that statement, I do not see why the hon. Member for Monmouth should have had any trouble in finding what he seemed to think was some deep rooted, hidden reason for the Government's attitude in this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) stated that there had been no industrial dispute in the industry for over 40 years, and he went on to imply that there was no desire, or should be no desire, on the part of the workers in the industry to see the industry nationalised. But, surely, no such inference could justifiably be drawn, because the iron and steel workers suffered as long and as bitterly through the trade depression as any other section of industrial workers. During those years I travelled the country a great deal, and it was deplorable to visit these steel centres and see the state of utter degradation which existed, plus obsolete plant and so forth. I put this significant point to the House. On casting one's mind round the country, one realises that, generally speaking, indeed, in practically all cases, the depressed areas centred around a steel area. South Wales, the Midlands, Lan 1086 cashire, the North East Coast, Cumberland and the Clydeside were depressed areas, and each one of them represented a steel centre.
The workers, and, indeed, some of the employers—although I am now speaking of the workers principally—in the iron and steel industry have suffered between the two wars, and it cannot be argued by any stretch of the imagination that the iron and steel workers are satisfied with conditions in the industry, so far as their welfare is concerned. I have noticed that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to attach sufficient importance to the welfare of the workers in the various industries. The workers are a very important part of industry. From the other side of the House we hear continual talk of finance, investment control, possessions, the machinery of the industry and equipment, etc., but very few observations about the workers. On this side our interests are concentrated on the workers and on the community, and it is from the aspect of the workers and the community that we judge this question of nationalisation. I make that point because it has frequently been stated on the other side—indeed, I have seen it stated in the Tory Press—that we on this side have party politics in mind when considering this vital question affecting an important industry. I submit that we on this side are interested in the workers and the consumers.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London stated that under the Federation's scheme, iron and steel prices are regulated according to efficient plant. One assumes from that statement that, generally speaking, plant throughout the industry was working on an efficient basis. That is not the case. I would remind hon. Members of the statement by the hon. Member for East Swansea (Mr. Mort) that even today in South Wales there are two tinplate mills run by water-mill power. We find that the whole of the tin-plate industry in America is run on the continuous-mill process, whereas in this country we only have two continuous mills. On this question of efficient plant in the; iron and steel industry I wish to quote a statement from "The Times " dated 24th February, 1945, which stated:The amount of obsolete equipment is considerable. There are too many works which sprawl, works which are a tangled riddle of 1087 gaps, corners, adjacent shops alternately empty and overcrowded, illogical separation, unbalanced and tortuous routes and methods in the handling of materials.That is an impartial statement indicating a low standard of efficiency in the industry. I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman stated the position fairly when he said that prices were regulated according to efficient plant. The right hon. Gentleman also complained about the line drawn. by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply as to the extent of the industry which might come under nationalisation. I thought that in the difficult circumstances the Minister drew a fairly practical line. He said that the four main sections of the industry—iron ore and coke ovens attached to iron and steel plants; steel smelting; rolling mills and blast furnaces—should come wholly within the scheme, and that as far as the finishing processes are concerned, such sections as are attached to integral plants should come in. I thought that was a very practical line to draw. I mention that because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London said that there were not six firms who could say whether they were wholly or in part within the scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the industry displays a progressive public spirit. I wonder if that is borne out when one remembers the modern scheme that was proposed for Jarrow in 1934 or 1935. In those days the industry was in a parlous condition. A syndicate proposed a fine modern integrated plant in Jarrow. One would,have thought ',hat public spirit would have encouraged the building of such a modern plant, but instead of that, the Iron and Steel Federation did everything they could to prevent that plant coming into existence. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, who was the Minister at that time, did everything he could to encourage the installation of that plant but, as I say, the scheme was opposed by the efforts of the Iron and Steel Federation. It was a great constructive proposal. It would have been effective in bringing down costs. For example, one of the promoters said that in one steel works the cost of producing steel ingots was 83s. a ton.
In another modern plant, using similar raw materials, the price for producing steel 1088 ingots was 78s. per ton; whereas the estimated cost for producing the ingots by the proposed plant was 65s. per ton, namely, a reduction of 18s. per ton in the producing of steel ingots, or a reduction of 22 per cent. Had the employers at that time possessed the progressive public spirit which the right hon. Gentleman claimed,. they would have helped in that great opportunity for providing modern plant to be developed.
When Mr. Brassett, the great steel consultant, was asked to report on the proposed scheme, he made the statement that from a national standpoint such a modern iron and steel plant, situated on one of the world's best coking deposits and on one of the country's finest industrial harbours, would be a distinct asset. With the approaching clouds of war, with the great need in those days for securing steel, and for securing the finest modern plants for that purpose, one would have thought the project in Jarrow would have been received with open arms. The Report of the Iron and Steel Federation embodies the prospect of scrapping plant, as well as the provision of new plant. The trade has suffered severely in the past with regard to scrapping particular plants and the building of new plants. For example, when Stewarts and Lloyd came down to Corby—I was in the area in the early stages—it was just a country village with a few houses and thatched cottages. It was not right to build a new plant there without the housing conditions of the people having been concurrently considered. The building of a new plant in a new area, involving large scale transportation of people, can only be carried through by a public body who would properly consider the town planning aspect, with regard to the prospects of building a new township.
I am strongly against the principle of half a dozen directors, half a dozen captains of industry, being able to sit down in a room and come to a decision to transplant a plant from one area to another without reasonable consideration being given to the terrific upheaval involved in regard to possibly thousands of workers' homes. That power ought not to be left in the hands of private enterprise. From that standpoint nationalisation offers a very important solution. The iron and steel industry is a basic industry for armaments. The shareholders in the iron and 1089 steel industry have, in consequence, a profit interest in war. On that aspect alone, the industry ought to come under public control. I have listened to the Debate almost right through, and I think a good case has been made out for bringing the iron and steel industry under public ownership and public control. On this side of the House the case for nationalisation, I submit, has been amply substantiated
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
I will not detain the House many minutes in giving the decision to which we on the Liberal bench have come, after profound and anxious consideration of this vital industry. We cannot help feeling that there is an element of the unreal in this Debate and in this Motion. The House has been asked to approve of a decision by the Government to bring forward certain proposals, but there is a great deal of uncertainty hanging around the nature, the extent and the date of those proposals. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) mention the possibility of the nationalisation of the armaments industry, a proposal which we on these benches would welcome. But that is not implicit in these proposals, and has not been mentioned by a single Government front bench speaker. At the same time, it is evident that this industry has many of the qualities of a monopoly, that it needs reorganisation in the public interest, and that public ownership may well enter into that reorganisation. I have not seen the plans in sufficient detail to come to a verdict upon that; in fact, no plans have been produced. The industry is in need of organisation. It has sheltered behind a tariff wall for years; a tariff protection afforded in return for a promise of organisation, which, up to the present time, has been carried out purely on paper.
The Liberal Party is always prepared to examine proposals for public ownership when they are put before this House in a concrete form. The plans have not assumed that form, and we suspect that doctrinaire considerations have entered into the attitude of both the Government Front Bench and the addresses of the Conservative Party. There is no immediate issue before the House; there is no present proposal before the House; there is no 1090 legislation before the House. Therefore, we on these benches do not feel it proper to vote on this Motion. [Interruption.] I am not looking for precedent among hon. Members of the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. If I were to do so, I have heard advice given by the Government Whips to their Members to abstain. I have also seen the party above the Gangway on this side of the House abstain from voting on an immediate, even urgent, issue like the American Loan. There is no immediate issue tonight before this House; there is no legislation before this House—
§ Mr. Roberts
I am glad to have the assurance though only from the back bench opposite that there will be plans. Until then we cannot be called upon to express an opinion on a purely abstract Motion on this important matter.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lieut. - Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
We in Northern Ireland have no coal and no steel, but we are still deeply interested in this matter because we are consumers and it is our raw material. It affects us deeply when we hear speeches in which reference is made to an increase of is. per ton on coal or 3s. per ton on steel. That affects our industry and our workers in Northern Ireland. Up to date we have had cooperation, and some mercy from the Front Bench opposite, but we cannot forget the Attorney-General when he finished one of his speeches saying, like the late Sir Henry Irving in the murder scene from "The Bells," "We are masters now." Before the war other Governments tried to apply force to Northern Ireland. Even the Liberal Government once had a cruiser at the mouth of Belfast Lough trying to force us out of the British Empire. We want to get iron and steel in the same way as the people of England, Scotland, and Wales, of the same quality and at the same price. If the steel industry is nationalised we may not get the steel we need at the price we want. It all depends on the Government in power here. We cannot forget that if this industry is nationalised Northern Ireland's engineering industry is at the mercy of the Government in power here. It employs a great many people in engineering. I see a member of the Amalgamated Engineer- 1091 ing Union on the benches opposite. He knows that there are 30,000 people employed by Harland & Wolff, and 6000 by Mackie's, and many more by Combe, Barbour's, making textile machinery, and by the Sirocco Works, and Musgraves, on fans. Our hundreds of small engineering industries export all over the world, and we are very nervous about the Government's proposals. We know that there is no competition at the present time, but we have our order books full. We can sell anything from a lathe to a layette anywhere in the world at present. I see that the Amalgamated Engineering Union supported this Motion. I am told they put a pistol to the head of the Government and forced them to introduce that. I do not know whether that is true or not.
§ Sir W. Smiles
I know members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and I have a great respect for them, because I was an engineer myself. But I believe they are wrong. Let them not forget that there is competition in the steel industry also. Remember the new blast furnaces which were blown at the beginning of the war in India. They have increased their production three times during the war. I saw myself in South Africa what they have done in the works of Stewarts and Lloyds, Iscor and others. South Africa is going to increase its present steel plant by one-third. Neither India nor South Africa had 100per cent. E.P.T. There is going to be great Asiatic and American competition. Other countries, too, are developing engineering industries. I remember that before the last war a firm I know got quotations for steel from this country and from other countries. A Belgian quotation was the lowest but the director said " We will buy British and face our shareholders on that decision." But they can only go up to a certain point in buying British. If they go too high in costs they will not be able to sell their machinery abroad afterwards. I have heard no mention made yet from the Government benches that the industry is going to be more efficient in consequence of their proposals. I fear the result of these proposals in England, Scotland and Wales, and especially I fear for the engineering and shipbuilding industries in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I intervened when the hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) was speaking, because, although he was putting his case very fairly, he was overlooking one point which, I felt, made a great difference, and that was the matter of quantity. It is an old story which I have mentioned very often when the motor car industry has been discussed in this House. It plays an equally important part whether one is dealing with finished cars, materials or components for them, that when one compares with America one must bear in mind the quantity as well as the wage rates. I have been into the question only this weekend, and I obtained the costs, and if we can only have half the quantity the Americans produce we can easily beat them in price, in spite of anything else. That equally applies to steel. In America they have continuous strip mills, They are run without alteration, and it is for that reason that they are able to obtain those long runs and get their prices down in spite of their extra wage rates.
The motor industry wants cheap steel. We are always arguing with the steel people about that. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) told us yesterday the percentage of steel in motor cars. I think it is not as great as many people think it is, but steel is a substantial item and, therefore, the cost of steel to those engaged in the motor industry is of great importance. For many years we have been arguing with the Iron and Steel Federation. We used to quarrel with them, but it was not any good, and we decided to work with them and see how we could help them. Very considerable progress has been made in standardisation and in the alteration of sizes. The only hope of obtaining what we want is to have concentration. That is what the Federation's scheme means.
During the Debate we have heard quite a number of references to what the Tory Governments did in 1932 onwards. But why pick on 1932? It reminds me of the English history that starts " 1o66 and All That." Of course, there was English history before ro66, and there was history in this matter before 1932. The Minister of Supply said:In 1932 the Conservative Government of that time began to take an interest in the 1093 industry.'— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 2946; Vol. 423, c 846.]" Began to take an interest," But he did not say what happened in 1929. Now, I happen to be one of those who were interested in this question in 1929. I was sent for by the Minister in charge, and I attended conferences with others, and we were asked to get together to amalgamate and to rationalise in order that the growing problem of unemployment might be tackled.
They sent an economic adviser to Birmingham during the British Industries Fair to see what could be done to get the small industrialists to amalgamate and rationalise. When the Conservative Government of 1932 came in they continued that policy, and, therefore, it is not fair to accuse them as though it was entirely an idea of the Conservative Government, that there should be this conception of federation. They developed what had been started.
Having been in touch with the Federation, arid wanting cheap steel, I was very interested and kept in touch with it, and I saw the chairman of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I was in regular touch with him, and he explained that although they would not be able to give us immediate advantages, because they had to get together, and to organise and consolidate, later on, when they had got that done, they would close down the redundant, inefficient plants and give us an advantage in price. We waited patiently, and then we went along in 1937 or 1938, and asked what was being done and why many of these plants were being kept open? Confidentially, we were told they could not close down a single plant, because they had had their orders from the Government to keep them going, because every ounce of steel would be needed in connection with the armament programme and the possibility of war. How right they were.
We did not get the reduction in price we had hoped for, which would have come from a proper consolidation scheme. But now all that is set to go ahead. The postponed schemes are all ready to be put in hand, but they have been held up. Plans, which to my knowledge could have been put into operation months ago, have been delayed because of the uncertainty. The plan has been taken away from the Federation because the Government say 1094 they cannot allow price fixing under some form of Government control. It may be a good debating point but the fact remains that we did have price fixing under a form of Government control all during the war period, and it worked. It worked successfully and it can be worked again, provided industry provides an expanding demand with reduced costs. This organisation was designed to achieve those ends. But the Governmeat cannot guarantee the quantity.
I had a splendid example of that only this week. A constituent of mine sent me the whole story of how he was trying to buy some surplus roofing felt. I wish that the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) could have seen this correspondence, because it would have made an excellent article for " Punch." Letters were flying from Birmingham to London and from London into the country, from one office to another, until finally he heard that the roofing felt which he had found surplus had been sold.
There is an absolute feeling of uncertainty at the present moment. The Lord President suggested that the position was quite clear and definite, but if one took the matter to a lawyer, or asked the advice of counsel as to whether the matter was so clear that one could go ahead, I am sure that he could not give an answer —at least my lawyer would not let me go ahead. The real solution of this problem lies in the question of coal with which we were dealing last week. I wish that the Government would leave this problem alone, and that they would get on with the coal question so that we can have a plentiful and cheap supply. The Minister of Supply has told us that immediately after the last war there was a wild boom in the best style of private enterprise, followed by a terrible depression which was the inescapable result of private enterprise. I want to ask whether he has found the secret of continued prosperity. Does he imagine that we are to have an uninterrupted flow of prosperity to the end of time just because the Government are to nationalise and take over? We know that private enterprise found a way out, but it was a hard and difficult road. When a slump comes, as some day it will come, I shudder to think what will happen with all these untried conditions. I shall be the first to take my hat off to hon. Members opposite 1095 if they have found the secret to continued prosperity, but if they have not found it, I look forward with the greatest dread to a possible slump with these untried schemes in operation.
§ 8.44 P.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in opening today's Debate, said that this was an historic occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, in his introductory remarks yesterday, quoted a speech made by the Leader of the House, which I expect by now he is tired of hearing, the brief effect of which was that the nationalisers had to make out their case. I am bound to say that, having listened to practically all the speeches made in the course of these two days of Debate, and having read those speeches which I did not hear, I find very few arguments in favour of nationalisation to answer. There is perhaps some irony in the fact that the right non. Gentleman the Leader of the House has been selected to wind up this Debate, because rumour has it, and I put it no higher than that, that he, at all events, with his wider experience, entertains some qualms about the rightness of this decision. I have no doubt that one of the reasons for the decision lay in a certain amount of jealousy on the part of the Minister of Supply that he was not quite in the nationalisation picture. He saw his colleagues, and that tiresome fellow the Minister of Fuel and Power, getting away with all the glory, and he thought it was about time that he entered on the stage. Those of us who had an opportunity to sit on this side of the House and watch his performance, could not fail to be struck by the fact that in 'the course of his long and lucid statement he looked around for applause from various sections of the House, and during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) looked to the galleries.
The Leader of the House has not always felt himself obliged to reply to arguments from this side of the House. He has on occasions relied rather on his big battalions. I suggest that tonight, on this historic occasion, as the Chancellor called it, we are entitled to expect from the right hon. Gentleman serious arguments devoted first of all to making out the case for nationalisation, and, secondly, to answering the very cogent speech made 1096 this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan). That speech, by general consent of the House, was not only one of the best which my right hon. Friend has delivered, but one of the best speeches which has been heard in this House in this Parliament. No person listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and subsequently to the speech of my right hon. Friend, could have entertained any doubt as to which was the really informed speech and which speaker had the better of the argument. Had I been in the shoes of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, I should have regretted the speech which his colleague, the Chancellor, made, because the Chancellor was at some pains, no doubt unconsciously, but nevertheless effectively, to destroy two at least of the main arguments upon which the right hon. Gentleman based the case for these proposals. What was one of the chief arguments which the right hon. Gentleman used? He said, yesterday:The Government consider that, faced with the necessity of carrying out vast schemes of national planning in the industry, such a divorce of ownership from control just would not work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, r046; Vol. 423. c. 849.]He supported this by the argument that the necessary money would have to be found by the Government. But in his speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that a good place in the queue would be found for both State and private sectors for cheap money. If he is prepared to lend at nearly Government rates to the private sector of this industry, is there any reason why he should not also be prepared to lend, on similar security, at Government rates to the whole of the industry, as put forward in the plan? I think that he destroyed that argument. Another argument which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply used in the defence of his case was that the Federation had no control over its members, and that short of nationalisation, the Government could never ensure that their desires would be carried out. Again, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer knocked the props from underneath that argument when he described how, without nationalisation, he had succeeded in persuading the tinplate firms in South Wales to adopt the merger.
§ Mr. Dalton
I did not say that I had persuaded them to adopt the merger. What I said was that Mr. Lever was kind enough to have a word with me shortly before the merger, and I said that, in my view, it was likely to do more good than harm for reasons which I gave.
§ Mr. Hudson
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that he gave the impression that he was pleased with the result. IT e result that he thought desirable had, in fact, been achieved without nationalisation, and the only thing that Mr. Thomas was going to get for his public spirited action was that, eventually, he would be taken over.
The third argument which the right,hon. Gentleman used yesterday was that the industry could no longer be regarded as a private competitive industry. Many other speakers based their statements and arguments on the ground that prices had been fixed, and that any industry where prices had been fixed could no longer be regarded as competitive. That is surely labouring under a complete misapprehension. Prices represent only one of the elements that enter into competition, and when you have fixed prices, there still remain the really important things, namely, quality and service. Having fixed prices and obtained that element of stability that everyone wants, then the competition which arises between the individual firms concerned is: Who can give the best service, and who can deliver goods of the best quality? It is, therefore, incorrect to say that this industry has ceased to be competitive.
Then he said that the Government must exercise greater and more detailed control than was exercised before the war. Why must they exercise greater control? The Steel Federation admits that control, guidance and supervision on the part of the Government are desirable and necessary. At the present moment, and assuming that the plan put forward by the Federation were accepted, the Government have control over the location of industry, and over the location of plants; and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman was at pains to praise the plans put forward in so far as they provided for new plant in the distressed areas. Having got control over priorities and distribution, and having got control over prices, imports and exports, what more control could any 1098 one desire? He went on to say that control could not be divorced from ownership, but if we look for a moment at the past, which hon. Members were so anxious to trot out for their own purposes, we see that, in fact, control is capable of being exercised, and was exercised, when divorced from ownership.
During the years immediately before the war, and during the war, control was exercised in very great detail by the Iron and Steel Control, completely divorced from ownership. There is no reason to suppose that, given good will on both sides, control cannot continue to be exercised for all the purposes for which the Government could legitimately exercise control, irrespective of whether or not the actual ownership is in private hands or in the hands of the Government. The minds of a number of hon. Members on the back benches were not unnaturally occupied with memories of what had happened between the wars. What was done between the wars, in very different circumstances, is really no argument to what would happen, after this war, in entirely different circumstances. They were also not unnaturally pre-occupied with the human side of the industry.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), for example. pointed out the grave danger in his own constituency of having a new town which was dependent on a single industry. The whole history of the inter-war years reinforced that fear. We all know what happened to towns that depended on a single industry, compared, for example, with Birmingham, which was dependent on a very wide variety of industries. But what happens to a town dependent on a single industry, is not altered by whether the blast furnaces are owned by the State, or owned by private individuals. If, for example—I hope it will not happen—some brand new process was discovered which made the existing installation at Corby completely out of date, the fact that it was owned by the Government under this new scheme would not save the country from having to face, and find a solution of, the problem of providing some alternative industry for Corby. It would have to be done whether the industry was owned by the nation or whether it was owned by private individuals.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering went on to refer to the grave 1099 problem of the restoration of the soil of Northamptonshire, following on the extraction of iron ore. I know the gravity of that problem just as well as he does He seemed to assume that if the whole of the ore were owned by the State, and run by the Ministry of Supply, you would get the soil restored. But is there any certainty? I should have said that the certainty was the other way. If the soil is owned by private individuals, and Parliament, in its wisdom, passes an Act imposing a statutory duty, either on the owner or on the user, to restore the land to agriculture after the ore has been extracted, it is almost certain that that will be carried out. But if you merely rely on the fact that a Government Department is to do it, you have no kind of guarantee that it will be done. Believe me I speak with considerable knowledge and experience. I have been Minister of Agriculture, and I tried my best to make sure that the Ministry of Fuel and Power, when they had extricated coal by opencast mining, would restore the land to agricultural use. I got a most explicit promise that it would be done. Anyone who has any experience of land in this country knows it has not been done, and anyone who is representative of those areas knows that no amount of questioning in this House under our existing circumstances will succeed in persuading Government Departments to have it carried out. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering is labouring under a complete delusion if he thinks nationalisation, by itself, is going to cure either of the two difficulties which are worrying him.
Other hon. Members on the back benches gave elaborate reasons why in the case of industries of which they had experience, schemes which they thought desirable had not been carried out. Several hon. Members said that the Governor of the Bank of England had interfered to stop them. The Governor of the Bank of England is now under the direct control of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that argument " goes West."I do not think he will be willing to sabotage the Government's own plans.
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes, and I say that that argument now " goes West." Other hon. Members said they objected to the steel 1100 industry having been a member of a cartel. What is a cartel? A cartel is an agreement between industries in different countries to observe certain conditions whether of price or import quotas. If and when—and I shall be glad if the Leader of the House answers this when he comes to reply —this industry is nationalised, do the Government not contemplate ever entering into cartels? For the first time, if this proposal goes through the Government are going into the export trade on a big scale with all the difficulties and complications which that will involve. Are they going to be so purist to say that they will never have agreement with industrialists in other countries or nationalised industries in foreign countries? Certainly they are going to.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Gentleman by making that interruption gives me the opportunity of telling him why. Even that purist the Minister of Fuel and Power said as recently as 20th May last:It may be necessary for us to embark upon schemes which will relate the industrial activities of other nations with our own. It may be necessary to promote economic integration not only in the national sphere but in the international sphere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1946; Vol. 423, C. 148]Integration in the international sphere is merely another way of saying cartel. Other hon. Members on the back benches opposite took great exception to the prices that were charged to British industry by the steel makers, compared with prices which, they alleged, could De obtained in the case of supplies coming from other countries. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) quoted the case of steel castings. He said that the price at home was, I think, £148, and that in America it was £62. That sounds a very damaging attack, but he failed to answer —as I have no doubt the Leader of the House will also fail to answer—the pertinent question: What are you going to do about it? That is a perfectly legitimate question for me to put, because the right hon. Gentleman said that the nationalisers must make out their case.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Always only 50 per cent. of my statements are quoted. I said that it was up to the nationalisers to prove the case for nationalisation, but that it 1101 was equally up to the anti-nationalisers to prove their case for private ownership.
§ Mr. Hudson
I quite agree, but the difference tonight is that the right hon. Gentleman is defending a Motion which says that this industry ought to be nationalised. Therefore, it is incumbent upon him to do his half of the job. All I am asking, in all seriousness, is that he will face the dilemma put by the hon. Member for Wednesbury, namely, what will happen when the industry is nationalised? Will the price of these castings, in a nationalised industry, be brought down from £148 to£62? Will the industry be so efficient as to do that? The bon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) let the cat out of the bag. He said that it was no part of the case for nationalisation that the industry, under nationalisation, would be more efficient. All he claimed was that the nationalisers ought to have a chance of showing whether it would be more efficient. That is a different kettle of fish.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
That is very different from what I said. I said that nationalisatlon in itself would not improve the industry.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. His revised version is even better than the authorised version, and proves my case up to the hilt. The hon. Member went on to let another cat out of the bag. He said that if there was any difficulty in getting the price of castings down he would subsidise the cost, that if coal cost too much he would subsidise that, especially if it had to do with the export trade—
§ Mr. Hudson
I am within the recollection of the House. I hope the Leader of the House will say whether, under a system of national ownership of the iron and steel industry, he contemplates subsidising the price of exports. That is a legitimate question, and I hope we shall have an answer. The right hon. Gentleman will see the dilemma in which he finds himself. If he says, " No, I will not subsidise the price of exports,"Then the hon. Member for Wednesbury does not get his castings for £62, but has to pay £48. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he will 1102 subsidise exports, he is then up against the promises which he and his Government have made under the Commercial Agreement attached to the Loan Agreement with the United States. He questioned my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London when the latter said that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply had made confusion worse confounded. We would very much like to know what are his ideas on this subject of overseas trade. If we understood him aright, the Minister of Supply said yesterday,that there were a certain number of firms in the iron and steel industry who were highly integrated and would, therefore, be taken over altogether, lock, stock and barrel. But many of these firms have very valuable subsidiaries overseas. Why did they have such valuable subsidiaries overseas? Because of the world wide reputation which they had gained. Foreign countries came and invited firms like Stewart & Lloyds and Dorman Long to establish subsidiaries in their countries—not only in the Dominions but in foreign countries as well. Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate taking over these subsidiaries or does he contemplate having to sell them to some other private companies? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take note of this question and answer it. In the latter case, how are the Government going to maintain the efficiency of these subsidiaries, based as they were on being run by the parent company, and if he intends to take them over what sort of reception is he going to get from the foreign countries involved? Can one possibly conceive of a foreign country agreeing to the British Government running a subsidiary industry of the importance of iron and steel in their own country? These are the sort of questions we are entitled to ask.
In the few moments that are left to me let me try to sum up. Whatever sections of the industry are eventually taken over and nationalised, the Government will create a situation which we believe will be highly dangerous to our economy. Over a large, quite undefined and quite irrational range—because the borders will be wholly irrational—the Government will be competing with private enterprise on a vast range of small and very varied commodities. One of two results are bound to follow. Either the State will have to use its exceptional powers to put private enterprise out of 1103 business, a solution which inspires no great satisfaction and no great confidence in the breasts of the hundreds of individual firms who may feel themselves labouring and living under this threat, or else the Government will be compelled' to subsidise their operations out of public funds in order to compete with the more efficiently run and more energetic private firms, and that, I suggest, will afford no solution and no satisfaction to the taxpayer who has to foot the bill.
What we have seen in the case of coal nationalisation does not inspire any confidence that the Government will be able to run the industry more efficiently than private enterprise. The right hon. Gentlemen the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Supply made a great deal of play today and yesterday with the case of South Africa. The Chancellor said that we on this side of the House were rather " choosey " about the Dominions. He said that there is a Labour Government in Australia and a Government which is not Labour in South Africa; South Africa has a great Government owned steel industry. What are the facts? The Government owned steel industry is a modern one and, therefore, its costs ought to be low. Today we in this country can land steel in Cape Town as cheaply as South African plant can deliver it there, and when one is considering two similar plants, one in South Africa' owned by the local Government, and one in Australia owned and run by private enterprise under a Socialist Government, one finds that the private enterprise plant in Australia produces steel cheaper than the Government owned plant in South Africa.
§ Mr. Hudson
But, unfortunately, they do not own the plants concerned; they are run by private enterprise. There is one further consideration which I should have thought would have weighed with His Majesty's Government. This Government professes its anxiety to see national planning. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in a speech a little while ago, suggested that after all the immediate plans for nationalisation had been carried out, we would still have 80 or 85 per cent. of industry running under 1104 private enterprise. His colleague at the Board of Trade has been setting up working parties, one of the main objects of which was to help individual industries to plan themselves and to coordinate their efforts to help in reorganisation and in the modernisation of machinery and equipment and to encourage the maximum effort in the expott drive. I do not think anyone would disagree with that, but here we have an industry which has organised itself. It hag produced a plan, which, on the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply himself yesterday, is today highly efficient and making a notable contribution to our problems of the export trade. What is its reward? Its reward is to be taken over. In other words, the theory is that the more efficient one is, and the more highly organised one is, the more ripe one is to be taken over. Does anyone honestly believe that that is the way to encourage the planning of industry, the coordination of industry and the formulation of organisations for the export drive and so forth? No, Sir, that is the way to destroy confidence. That is the way to make people say, " Look what has happened to the iron and steel people who did organise themselves and produced a plan. If we want to survive as individuals and private enterprise, we had better have nothing to do with that."This is an historic occasion, because, if this is carried through, I believe by their action the Government will have done more than by any other means in their power to frustrate the pleas for increased production with which they have been so lavish in the past few months.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
On 17th April, when was in Birmingham seeking to promote industrial production and prosperity, there was great excitement in this House consequent on the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply with regard to the iron and steel industry. I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was most ingenious in putting supplementary questions on this statement, which, with interventions by others, seemed to cover about 20 columns of HANSARD. The right hon. Gentleman's language was eloquent and varied, and as fine as usual, and the result is this Debate. I am hound to say that I am a little surprised that the Leader of the Opposition has been 1105 absent during by far the greater part of the Debate—in fact he has been here very little—[HON. MEMBERS: " What about the Prime Minister? "] With great respect, the Prime Minister did not ask for the Debate. It was the Leader of the Opposition who asked for the Debate.
I am bound to say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman would either move the Motion, or that I should have the fun and enjoyment, and the privilege, of following him at the end of the Debate. But he has not spoken at all; and whilst I have been delighted to listen to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Agriculture on this subject—I am not saying that in the least scornfully; the right hon. Gentleman always makes a good speech, if I may say so, and is one of the ablest debaters of the Opposition—if I had been the Leader of the Opposition and had provoked a row lasting nearly an hour, and covering nearly 20 columns of HANSARD, I really would have stuck to my guns and come in to the Debate. However, different men have different ways. We have had two days' Debate, but, apart from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan), which I entirely agree was the outstanding Opposition speech in the Debate and one worthy of the attention and consideration of us all, I cannot see that these two days have done much good except to provide an admirable opportunity for Government propaganda in support of their policy for the iron and steel industry.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, I thought, stated the issue pretty well—[AN HON. MEMBER: " You have not read what he said."]—I have. You have no idea of how well informed I am. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member. for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said:The problem that is confronting us is: How can we now, in this period, when there is a tremendous demand for steel, ensure in the future, and as a long-term policy, that steel of the proper quality, in the proper quantity and at the proper price is produced? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 2946; Vol. 423, C. 923.]That, I agree, is the issue that we are really debating. We are debating the future of a great, vital, basic British industry. It is, therefore, not, in its essence, a matter of party politics at all; it is, in its essence, a business matter, namely, 1106 what is the best course to take in the interests of the community and of the nation in the handling of this great, vital, basic British industry. That is what it is all about, and although political theory and party politics are bound to flit across the Chamber and we all enjoy that on all sides, it is really not a party political matter. It is a matter of business, and national business at that.
It was for that reason that I, in particular, welcomed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, which I thought, although I did not agree with his conclusions, essentially relevant to the argument and, as I say, well worthy of consideration by all of us, But before I come to his speech, there are one or two observations I wish to make about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson). He asked why we should need greater control. The answer is in the mouths of the Iron and Steel Federation themselves. They themselves have. contemplated, and said that they are perfectly willing to submit to, a greater degree of control. The right hon. Gentleman asked, what more do we want besides control; is not control enough? He thought it was not essential to have ownership because the powers of control would meet the case.
It is a fair point, and I am not going to say that control should not he used in a number of sectors of economic policy. Indeed, this Government are exercising economic controls in many cases without socialisation. But, in the case of this industry, which is vital, which is basic, but which has had a not altogether happy history in the interwar years I think we would be in danger, by using that method of control permanently, of exercising negative and irritating controls, instead of getting the freedom and sweep which we would get on the basis of ownership. To that I shall return in commenting on the speech of the right hon. Member for the City of London.
The right hon. Member for Southport says that he has found in his experience that you cannot get Government Departments to move. I rather gathered that he has a bitter complaint that he could not get the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) to get a move on, at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, about something which he 1107 wanted dealt with when he was at the Ministry of Agriculture. That is what happens when we get a Tory and a Liberal National trying to compete with one another. If my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Fuel and Power had been in office then, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would have got satisfaction.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Member, who is a Liberal National, should not intervene in this Debate. This is a private quarrel of the Front Opposition Bench.
The right hon. Gentleman then tried to draw me on the question whether the new socialised undertaking, or public corporation or corporations will have cartel relationships with cartel organisations overseas. For very good reasons, I am not going to be drawn. I will just say that this will be a public concern and it will be its duty to do what is right in the public interest. [Laughter.] I really never saw such a lot of simpletons in all my life. I should be a complete fool if I were to say otherwise. Precisely the same answer has to be given on the point as to whether exports are going to be subsidised or not. Indeed, the proof of the irrelevance and unreality of these two questions is that if they were put down at Question time, or put in the form of supplementary questions, Mr. Speaker would probably rule them out of Order on the ground that they are hypothetical. I am bound to say that I took that liberty, a very risky one, with the name of Mr. Speaker, and when I was half way through I thought, " Now you will get into trouble with the Father of the House." But it seems to be all right.
§ Mr. Morrison
The trouble with the Father of the House is that there are occasions when he insists on being not the Father of the House but the Stepfather of the House.
I want to deal, with every courtesy that his speech warranted, with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. It was a business man's intelligent argument for 1108 private ownership, even if it was not an argument for private enterprise. It was an intelligently stated argument. Let not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) be jealous and condescending to his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London.
§ Mr. Morrison
I really mean this: This was a serious business man's contribution, for the right hon. Gentleman is not primarily a politician at all. Indeed, knowing he is a bit shy in the House of Commons, I thought he carried off his speech this afternoon with great confidence. We all congratulate him on his able speech.
The first question that the right hon. Member for the City of London put to me concerned my statement in November, in which I said that when the Report of the industry was received, the Government would examine it with care, and that for that reason iron and steel was excluded from the list of industries which we had decided at that point to nationalise. He asked whether it was not to be legitimately deduced from that that if the Report was, in the judgment of the Government, satisfactory, the industry would then be left to carry on and carry out the Report. There was no such observation in the statement I made in November, nor was there any implication to that effect. What we thought was that it would be both mistaken and discourteous, the industry having taken the trouble to produce this Report, if we were to make a pronouncement on high policy before the Report had been studied by the Government. The Government were not prejudiced in their decision one way or the other.
Let us understand what this Report does. It is a valuable Report. Neither I nor my right hon. Friend fundamentally quarrel with it. We cannot be committed to every detail of it, but it is an able and valuable contribution to the discussion of this problem. This is not a report on the issue of socialisation.. It is a technical report, suggesting what ought to happen in the technical development of the iron and steel industry. If the Report is broadly right, as I am inclined to think it is, then the carrying out of that technical scheme of 1109 development is desirable, whether there is private ownership or public ownership. But that was not for the industry to argue about in that Report, unless it so wished. I think that it was right not to do so. The industry was not going to bother itself at that point about what I might call the political aspect of the matter. It approached the job in a technical spirit, and I admire the industry for having done so, and thank it for a valuable Report.
The other question, the real question which is before the House and His Majesty's Government, is whether the technical proposals in that Report, or something like them, can best be done under private ownership plus such controls as the State may impose upon it, or whether it can be better done upon the basis of public ownership. That is what we are really debating, together with the other issue, which is the immediate purpose of the Debate: What are we to do in this interregnum between now and the passage of the Bill, which in due course will be introduced by my right hon. Friend? The right hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply had given a definition as to the general scope of the industry with which he was concerned. It was, of course, only a general statement, and the right hon. Gentleman said that in this industry there were 1,750 iron firms and 500 steel firms, and that the statement of my right hon. Friend had left nearly all those 2,250 firms in doubt whether they were inside or outside the definition of intended socialisation. In the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman, the definition had better not have been given by my right hon. Friend. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for this, because he is not primarily a politician. But I am bound to put it to the Front Bench opposite that if it was unwise of my right hon. Friend to give a definition at all, which I gather to be the view of the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
No—he should not have given a definition. That was the view. Why did my right hon. Friend do it? It was because he was firmly and strenuously pressed, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition, the whole of the Conservative Party and the whole Tory Press in the country, that he should do this very thing, and, of course—[Interruption.] 1110 —I am dealing with an argument from the Front Bench; I cannot see the point of that giggling. This is the argument, that if we are going to socialise an industry it would be nice if people knew broadly whether they were in or out. And it is no good demanding that my right hon. Friend should make a statement and then complaining that he has made it, yet that is in fact what has been done. My right hon. Friend has given a broad definition, as precise as he ought to try to give at this stage.
Remember what we are doing. We are not debating a Bill. We are having a Debate for which, for some reason or another, two whole days were insisted upon by the Leader of the Opposition. I shall have to consider saving one of those days when we come to the Second Reading of the Bill. Two days have been spent in Debate to find out the broad intention of the Government, particularly in respect of the transition period. It is only when we get to a Bill that details legitimately can be insisted upon. Even then, complete details may not be given. As a matter of fact, there is still detail which has to be settled as to the scope and field of socialisation in connection with the Coal Nationalisation Bill. That will not be finally settled until the new Act has been in operation for some time. Therefore, it is childish to demand, at this early stage, that very precise definitions shall be given. The right hon. Gentleman says that the consequence of the announcement about the broadly defined field of socialisation will be that development will be difficult in this industry. For reasons which I shall give, I dispute that conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman. If the uncertainty of the situation is to stultify the development of the industry in the transition period, under the policy of my right hon. Friend, surely there is equally a lot of uncertainty about what is to happen under the Report of the Iron and Steel Federation. There would be a lot of argument before these things were implemented by the Federation.
Moreover, the Federation had offered to come under a pretty stiff degree of State control. Therefore, that argument is equally applicable to the proposals of the Federation in themselves. Of course, whether we proceed by socialisation or by private ownership, if we are going in for the technical reorganisation of this great industry, then obviously there must be 1111 some element of uncertainty. What is the alternative? The alternative to some degree of uncertainty is to do nothing. I forget the exact phrase which was used by someone. It was, " Why interfere? " [HON. MEMBERS: " Why not leave it alone? "] I think that was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The right hon. Gentleman, who is always very fair, would agree that the argument was that the iron and steel industry should be left alone to carry out its own plan.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I quite agree, but, it I may say so, there is far too much of " Why not leave it alone? " on the part of the Conservative Party, and it has got our country into a lot of trouble in the past. It is not a fair charge against the Government to say that we are being indifferent to development and to the transition. What have we said? We have said that we will set up an intelligent Control largely composed of technical people who understand this industry.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
We will modify and develop it and have even a better one. We will make it as intelligent, sensible and businesslike as we can. The Control and the Minister will decide a programme of technical development, and I would not be surprised if it is very much like—I do not say exactly like—the industry's own scheme. What is the matter with that? Do the Opposition want us to invent a brand new Socialist scheme of technical development? They are positively provoking us. The Control and the Minister will approve a scheme of technical development and the industry will be invited—indeed, it has already been invited—to put up schemes of capital expenditure and development. My right hon. Friend has approved the expenditure of many millions of pounds on the part of the industry. The Minister and the Control will then sanction schemes of capital expenditure and technical development so as to promote development and progress during the period of transition, so that we are not holding it up.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone 1112 even further and has told the industry that if and when that is done, he will see that they get adequate recognition in the form of compensation for that capital expenditure and that he will be scrupulously fair about it. They will, of course, be in a strong position to get the right compensation if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has sanctioned the capital outlay when they go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Finally, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone further still and said that, in appropriate cases, he will even guarantee the interest under the Borrowing Bill which is now on its way back again, slightly touched up, from another place. Was ever a Government more considerate to private enterprise than this Government? We are being considerate because we recognise that it is vital that the industry shall not be reduced to chaos and that there must be a peaceful and constructive transition period to the new, wider and different order of things. We have got our feet on the ground; we know what we are doing.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London said that the Iron and Steel Federation had been charged, he thought rather illogically, with either doing too much or too little—either it had done too much in the sense that it had become too powerful a combination of high-power trade association, cartel and semi-monopoly, on the one hand, or that it was incapable of seeing through this technical change because of weakness, on the other. Both things are true. On the surface, they may sound illogical to a Scotsman, but, fundamentally, they are both true. The danger of this situation is that this is a highly powerful trade association, nearly a cartel, which has pushed and pushed that way in the light of slumps and experience, and is seeking great power over the industry. That is true, and that is the danger, unless it is subjected to the proper public control to which the industry, I agree, is willing to subject itself. I will come to that in a minute. On the other hand, we have to look at this big scheme of technical development—I am not sure that it ought to be in the hands of a private undertaking—at these changes with their vast social consequences, which involve pushing people's private property about in a way which I think will meet with resistance, and this obliges us to recognise 1113 that there are dangers, that it is both too powerful, and, maybe, in certain circumstances, too weak.
The right hon. Gentleman said that coal prices were one of the big factors in steel production and, therefore, it was important not to blame iron and steel too much, because coal had its responsibilities. He is quite right. Coal is a big factor, and coal, iron and steel are big raw material factors in the prices of a wide range of manufactured articles. It is partly because we realise the economic importance of coal, and the necessity for getting its price down to the lowest level consistent with the rights of the workpeople in the industry, that we are going to nationalise coal. Indeed, I think one Conservative Member opposite said he did not blame us for doing it, he rather agreed with that. It was this iron and steel business that he could not stomach. We are, therefore, trying to meet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London in respect of coal by pursuing the policy of socialisation which we hope will bring coal prices down. That is also one of our motives with regard to iron and steel
Whoever is running this industry, whether it be public corporations, firms with State money behind them, private enterprise or whatever it may be the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in saying that it is vitally important—in this industry particularly, indeed it is vital to all industries—that there should be, as he said, a responsible, creative and flexible management. He said that it was difficult to get that, but that we must get it. I entirely agree with him, and I undertake to the House that the Government will make every endeavour, and strive with great energy, to see that this industry gets just that kind of management. I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power will himself do the same with the coal industry. So there is nothing between us on that point.
It is often assumed that, when an industry becomes publicly owned, somehow or other it cannot be efficiently served. What does a limited liability company do when it wants to get people to run its undertakings? It really must not be assumed that the average director manages the affair, or indeed the average chairman, though some of them do. 1114 What the joint stock company does is to go out into the market and buy brains, skill, technical knowledge, managerial ability and proletarians. The State can do the same; the public corporations can do the same, and these are going to be public corporations, business concerns; they will buy the necessary brains and technical skill and give them their head. I could find some private companies which have failed infinitely more in buying technical skill and brains than some of our public concerns and municipal trading undertakings. We will buy them up and they will work for us, they will be adaptable, and we shall encourage them to manifest enterprise and not to run the thing according to red tape. [Laughter.] Well, as a matter of fact I think Conservative Ministers, if anything, had more red tape in their Departments than Socialist Ministers, but that, I admit, is a matter of opinion.
Therefore, it is their view, according to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, that nationalisation is not necessary. There is no proof for that allegation. There has indeed been no proof that nationalisation will do harm, and I admit there is an onus on me to show by argument that nationalisation will be an advantage. What is the practical problem that we are up against in this industry? We are first of all up against the problem of getting something like an assured, progressive and stable future for this industry. Let us see what happened to this industry in the inter-war years. Here are some illustrative figures from the" Economist."They make a very sad story, which must have involved very great anxiety to the men running the industry.
The " Economist's " annual computations of representative steel and coal earnings—I believe it is mostly for steel —after debenture interest is paid, gives the following picture on the basis of 1914 at 100; 1914, 100; 1915, 89; 1916, 119. I will go on in years—143; 135; 138; 1920, 64; 1921, 66; 1922, 78. Then it goes; 92; 66; 27; 18. It was 27 in 1925, 18 in 1926, 32 in 1927 and then 35, 51, and 42, down to 22 in 1931. [An HON. MEMBER: " Under a Labour Government."] The figure is down to 18 in 1926, under a Tory Government. In 1932, it was 15, under a Tory Government. Personally. I do not argue that way. In 1933, it was 28.
§ Mr. Jennings
On a point of Order. Is it possible for the House to get the figures circulated, so that we can hear something about the scheme?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is not even a clever one. That is a mere time-wasting one. In 1934 it was 52; in 1935, 67; in 1936, go; in 1937 it was 119. It was up again. We were getting near to war again Finally, we get to 125. One of the main questions is, Are we to have an iron and steel industry, after the immediate boom in the years ahead, that will go up and down in this fashion? It means disaster to the men who are managing it and to the people dependent upon it for their livelihood. It just cannot be done. It must not be done. I am sure we are all agreed that it ought not to be done.
The next point is that £168 million of capital is needed. The industry says that it can raise it. Perhaps it can. It has got some of it and it will, of course, need permission to go on the market for the other. I am not saying that that permission would not be given. But my own belief is that, with a public concern or with concerns which, with my right hon. Friend's guarantee, are going to be public concerns, we shall save materially on the interest rate, with the State guarantee behind it. That is the financial advantage. Secondly, it is agreed by the industry itself that there have to be very big physical changes in that industry. Our belief is that it will be easier, more decisive, more expeditious to get those physical changes in the industry under public ownership than by trying to get them by agreement, bargaining, negotiation and pressure, by cartel plus State control. We believe ours will be a cleaner, sweeter and more efficient job, done that way.
Moreover, there would be many controversies under the alternative system. The social consequences of those technical changes are eminently a matter of public concern, in which the public have a right to be considered. Finally, we must, somehow, develop managerial consolidation and managerial fluidity, if this industry is to be well run. What do the right hon. Gentleman, his friends, and the industry propose? If even there was a means of running the industry in a bureaucratic, hopeless way, in which there is no sweep and freedom of management, it is their way. First of all, there are 1116 2,250 firms. There is then the Federation supervising the 2,250 firms.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I think there are 1,750 firms in the iron industry, which has nothing to do with the British Iron and Steel Federation, or the steel industry.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I thought they were part of the iron and steel industry. I accepted the right hon. Gentleman's own words. In any case, there are hundreds of firms, if not 2,250. There are 500 steel firms, and 1,750 iron firms. This is their starting point. Then there is the Iron and Steel Federation, controlling them and working them on a cartel basis. Then there is the State Control Board controlling the Federation, and last of all the Minister behind the controlling body. That is the bureaucratic scheme advocated by the Opposition, beside which our socialisation scheme is simplicity and straightforwardness itself. I conclude in this spirit [Interruption.] I gave the right hon. Gentleman a courteous hearing, and I think I might receive the same.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I know all about the Tory Party and its difficulty in behaving itself. I conclude in this spirit. This industry is vital to the future of our country. The House will divide upon this Motion tonight, and I think the Motion will be carried. In due course, legislation will follow. The question for the industry is whether it will respond to the Motion that will be carried by the House, or whether it will not. I hope that the industry will recognise, after this Motion has been carried, that it is being invited to cooperate, not merely by the Government, but by the British House of Commons. We shall go through with this scheme anyway, cooperation or no cooperation, but both the industry and the Government will make a better job of it if there are good sense, understanding and cooperation on both sides. I earnestly trust that the industry will respond to the invitation which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has made and will continue to make, namely, to enter into cooperative discussion with him in order that this great transformation may be carried through to the advantage and benefit both of the British iron and steel 1117 industry and of the people of these Islands.
That this House approves the decision of His Majesty's Government to bring forward
proposals for transferring to the ownership of the nation appropriate sections of the iron and steel industry with a view to its efficient organisation in the public interest.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 338; Noes, 184.1121
|Division No. 185.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)|
|Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Irving, W. J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Deer, G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Allighan, Garry||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Janner B.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Delargy, Captain H. J.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Diamond, J||Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S.E.)|
|Anderson, F (Whitehaven)||Dobbie, W.||John, W.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Dodds, N. N.||Jones A. C. (Shipley)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon C. R.||Donovan, T.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)|
|Austin, H. L.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Dumpleton, C. W.||Keenan, W.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Durbin, E. F. M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Dye, S.||King, E. M.|
|Baird, Capt. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.|
|Balfour, A.||Edelman, M.||Kinley, J.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Kirby, B. V.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Barton, C.||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Lang, G.|
|Battley, J. R.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lavers, S.|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.|
|Belcher, J. W||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Benson, G.||Ewart, R.||Leonard, W.|
|Berry, H.||Fairhurst, F.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Beswick, F.||Farthing, W. J.||Lever, F[...]. Off. N. H.|
|Bing, Capt. G. H. C.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Levy, B. W.|
|Binns, J.||Follick, M.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)|
|Blenkinsop, Capt. A||Foot, M. M.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Forman, J. C.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Boardman, H.||Foster, W. (Wigan)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Logan, D. G.|
|Bowdan, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)||Lyne, A. W.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Gaitskell, H. T. N.||McAllister, G.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'p'I, Exch'ge)||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||MoEntee, V. La T.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Gibbins, J.||Mack, J. D.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Gibson, C. W.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Gilzean, A.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Goodrich, H. E.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||McLeavy, F.|
|Buchanan, G.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||McNeil, H.|
|Burden, T. W.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Burke, W. A.||Grenfell, D. R.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S)||Grey, C. F.||Mallalieu, J. P. W|
|Callaghan, James||Grierson, E.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Lianelly)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Gunter, Capt. R. J||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Champion, A. J.||Guy, W. H.||Marquand, H. A|
|Chater, D.||Hale, Leslie||Marshall, F. (Brightside)|
|Chetwynd, Capt. G. R.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Martin, J. H.|
|Clitherow, Dr. R.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Medland, H. M.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hardman, D. R.||Messer, F.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Hardy, E. A.||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Coldrick, W.||Harrison, J.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Collick, P.||Hastings, Dr. Somervill[...]||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.|
|Collindridge, F||Haworth, J.||Mitchison, Maj. G. R.|
|Collins, V. J.||Henderson, A, (Kingswinford)||Monslow, W.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Montague, F.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Herbison, Miss M.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Cook, T. F.||Hewitson, Capt M||Morley, R.|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Hicks, G.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Hobson, C. R.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Holman, P.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewishant, E.)|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Mort, D. L.|
|Cove, W G.||Horabin, T. L||Moyle, A.|
|Crawley, Flt.-Lieut. A.||House, G.||Murray, J. D.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Hoy, J.||Nally, W.|
|Daggar, G.||Hubbard, T.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Daines, P||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W)||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon H.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Hughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Noel-Buxton, Lady|
|O'Brien, T.||Shurmer, P.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Oldfield, W. H||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Usborne, Henry|
|Oliver, G. H.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Orbach, M.||Simmons, C. J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Paget, R. T.||Skeffington, A. M.||Walkden, E.|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Walker, G. H.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Skinnard, F. W.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Parker, J.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Parkin, Flt.-Lieut. B. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Pearson, A.||Snow, Capt. J. W.||Watson, W. M.|
|Peart, Capt. T. F.||Solley, L. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Perrins, W.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Piratin, P.||Sparks, J. A.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Stamford, W.||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Popplewell, E.||Steele, T.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Stephen, C.||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Price, M. Philips||Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Pritt, D. N.||Stokes, R. R.||Wilkes, Maj. L.|
|Pryde, D. J.||Strachey, J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Stross, Dr. B.||Wilkinson, Rt. Hon. Ellen|
|Randall, H. E.||Stubbs, A. E.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Ranger, J.||Swingler, S.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Rankin, J.||Symonds, Maj. A. L.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Reeves, J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Richards, R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Robens, A.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Willis, E.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Rogers, G. H. R.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)||Wilson, J. H.|
|Royle, C.||Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Sargood, R.||Thurtle, E.||Woodburn, A.|
|Scollan, T||Tiffany, S.||Yates, V. F.|
|Segal, Dr. S.||Timmons, J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A.||Titterington, M. F.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.||Tolley, L.|
|Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Turner-Samuels, M.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Keeling, E. H.|
|Aitken, Hon. Max||Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Armagh)||Duthie, W. S.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Soot. Univ.)||Eccles, D. M.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Erroll, F. J.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Linstead, H. N.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Lipson, D. L.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Fox, Sqn.-Ldr. Sir G.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Birch, Nigel||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Low, Brig. A. R. W.|
|Boothby, R.||Gage, Lt.-Col. C.||Lucas, Major Sir J.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.|
|Bower, N.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Glossop, C. W. H.||McCallum, Maj. D.|
|Braithwaite, Lt. Comdr. J. G.||Glyn, Sir R.||Macdonald, Capt. Sir P. (I. of Wight)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.||Mackeson, Lt. Col. H. R.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Gridley, Sir A.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Grimston, R. V.||Maclay, Hon, J. S.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Maclean, Brig. F. H. R. (Lancaster)|
|Carson, E.||Hare, Lt.-Col. Hn. J. H. (W'db'ge)||Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries)|
|Challen, C.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Haughton, S. G.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Marples, A. E.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G-||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Marsden, Capt. A.|
|Cole, T. L.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Herbert, Sir A. P.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Maude, J. C.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hollis, M. C.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hope, Lord J.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.|
|Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.||Howard, Hon. A.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|De la Bère, R.||Hurd, A.||Mott-Radolyffe, Maj. C. E.|
|Digby, Maj. S. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cdr. Clark (Edin'gh, W.)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Nicholson, G.|
|Donner, Sqn-Ldr. P. W.||Jarvis, Sir J.||Nield, B (Chester)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Noble, Comdr. A H. P.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Jennings, R.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Drewe, C.||Joynson-Hi[...]ks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Osborne, C.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Peaks, Rt. Hon. O.||Smithers, Sir W.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Pickthorn, K.||Snadden, W. M.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Pitman, I. J.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Spence, H. R.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Presoott, Stanley||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||White. Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Raikes, H. V.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Ramsay, Maj. S.||Studholme, H. G.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Rayner, Brig. R.||Sutcliffe, H.||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.|
|Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)||York, C.|
|Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland||Thomson, Sir D. (Aberdeen, S.)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partiek)|
|Ropner, Col. L.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Savory, Prof. D. L.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|S[...]ott, Lord W.||Touche, G. C.||Mr. James Stuart and Mr. Buchan-Hepbur|
|Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)||Turton, R. H.|
|Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.||Vane, W. M. T.|
Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the decision of His Majesty's Government to bring forward proposals for transferring to the ownership of the nation appropriate sections of the iron and steel industry with a view to its efficient organisation in the public interest.