§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate [10th February] on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. Speaker
The original Question was, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," since when an Amendment has been moved—
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
Like other famous oracles in history, your lightest remarks, Mr. Speaker, may be read in more than one sense, and it is in the first sense that we think it is high time that the rejection of this Bill was moved. It was said long ago by a great Parliamentary master, Earl Balfour, that you should never announce how you were going to vote until you had heard your own speech. He had powers of ratiocination and detachment which are not shared by all of us, but I must say that, after considering the evidence which has been laid before us, and more particularly after yesterday's Debate, I cannot help feeling a certain bias against this Bill, even at the commencement of my remarks. It seems that this view was generally shared throughout the House during yesterday's Debate.
Rarely have I known a Measure of first-class importance to be moved with less ferocity by a Minister of this Government, or listened to with such graveyard gloom by those who are usually most enthusiastic in support of such Measures. A singular drop in temperature has proceeded with the progress of the trilogy, with this the third of the tragedies, following each other in quick succession. The robustious enthusiasm with which the nationalisation of coal was introduced by the Minister, who is now in a still more 384 bellicose sphere, aided by the close and reasoned arguments by the then Under-Secretary, who is now Minister, was very noticeable.
Some evil fortune, however, seems to hang over the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Whenever it enters upon the field with some great measure of reconstruction some crushing calamity falls upon the nation. At the time of the last debate on the Electricity Bill, the country was deprived of electricity, and now, on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill to nationalise the gas industry, the country is informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it may be deprived of a substantial proportion of its standard of living. No doubt this adds to the gloom with which the House, and particularly the Government side of the House, greets the introduction of this Measure. All this emphasises the folly and the recklessness of bringing in these successive great Measures in conditions under which it is impossible to bring about the beneficent changes which their enthusiastic advocates hope for.
The Bill now before the House undoubtedly brings about a violent change, and a violent change in a smoothly going concern. The argument in favour of the nationalisation of coal commended itself because hon. Members said that the industry was in such a state of turmoil and confusion that some change must be made. Even in the case of electricity, there was they said a danger of undue buccaneering by profit-mongers which might do great damage to the future of the State. But neither of those arguments applies in the slightest to the industry which is now spread on the dissecting table before the House. This great industry whose relationships between capital and labour, employers and employed, are admittedly of the best, and which is already to a considerable extent under public ownership, is to be recast completely. That can only be justified by one contention, and that is that by its recasting a great era of development will take place which could not possibly have taken place under the previous conditions.
Yet, at this very moment the Chancellor of the Exchequer is putting out statements showing that the possibility for great capital development in this country will be very seriously limited, and that it is necessary for the country to concentrate 385 to an extent it has never done before on the mere problems of day-to-day existence. The undertakings which provide the gas on which this country relies for so much of its domestic comfort, for, much of its industrial supremacy, and for so much of its scientific development, are not for the bulk of its supply the great numbers of undertakings which can be quoted and are quoted as evidence for the necessity of reorganisation. But they are met by a smaller, a not unreasonable number of undertakings. Consider the great size of the industry, and the diversity of the conditions under which it has to operate. Roughly speaking, about 127 undertakings provide nearly 78 per cent. of the gas for this country. The Measure now before us proposes that these should be reduced forthwith to 12. These 12 are of an enormous size, and the Minister prays in aid various reports which have been made. The Minister cannot evade his responsibility by invoking reports. He must justify the proposals now before the House on the merits of the situation. I beg either of the Ministers to give me his attention. One of them might perhaps soliloquise while the other listens.
Let us take three of these great groups. The Northern Gas Board has to control a capital of £59 million and to look after the interests of 30,000 employees. The Yorkshire Board, with a capital of £60 million, has 32,500 employees, and the Lancashire Board, with a capital of £151 million, has 78,000 employees. Does the Minister suggest that it is for the good, either of the efficiency of the industry, or of the contentment of relations between capital and labour, that these gigantic undertakings should be set up? These views are certainly not shared generally, and not shared by some who look with a favourable eye on many of the actions of the Government. They are not shared by the "Manchester Guardian," which, in its leader this morning, points out thatthe 12 Area Boards will all be large organisations. Two will each serve 6,300,000 people. The average is 4,000,000. This is certainly not taking decentralisation very far. It is hard to believe, for example, that all the gasworks in the 30,400 square miles of Scotland can be controlled most efficiently from Edinburgh or Glasgow.It goes on to say:Mr. Gaitskell hardly tried to justify it.386 Those are frosty words to come from a Press which often gives very favourable consideration to the experiments of this Government.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not think it right to add that the first part of the leading article to which he has referred expressly says that the Minister made out a case for nationalisation yesterday?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It would be greatly to the advantage of this House if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would occasionally refrain from the constant drip of chatter which is one of the most depressing features of any Debate. I am not in any way trying to shirk the question, nor is it likely that I would shirk any question which had occurred to the mind of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
The "Manchester Guardian" says:No one denies that many of the existing gas undertakings are too small tot fully efficient working";but it goes on to state:Nationalisation offers a much better opportunity of reorganising the industry into more efficient units. But it does not do more than that. The practical issue is whether the structure that the Government proposes is one that will take the opportunity. About this Mr. Gaitskell was quite unconvincing,If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has any more interruptions he would like to make I hope that he will leave himself open to a similar devastating reply.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The right hon. and gallant Member is not doing himself justice. He rarely does himself justice when he sets out to be rude, instead of answering the questions put to him. He has read one point, and it is quite true that the "Manchester Guardian" later said that the Government had not made out their case for the particular method which they had chosen, but the whole of the first part of the argument went to show that the principle of nationalisation had been amply established.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The further the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne attempts to defend the Ministers who, after all, are far more capable of putting the case than he is, the more deeply he embarrasses his right hon. and hon. Friends. Can anything more damaging to 387 the Ministers be said by an enthusiastic supporter than, "Of course, the principle is all right, but the Bill which the Ministers have brought forward does not in any way rise to the opportunity which the principle offers." If he calls that defending his right hon. and hon. Friends, well, Heaven save us from our friends.
Admittedly, these great powers at the present moment mean a very drastic recasting of the whole of the area of direction, the whole of the planning and management of the gas industry. In the very nature of things, they will require that the attention of many of those who should be concentrating their efforts on providing the most efficient supplies of gas, and the best way of managing the scanty resources in their possession, of keeping going an industry which is now working in many cases with plant that is worn down almost to the point of breakdown, will be closely and intimately concerned, as human beings must always be concerned, with the problems of their own daily bread and butter; the problems of their immediate future. The directors and higher staff are human beings, and they will find themselves deeply interested as to how their own affairs are going to come out in this great, recast, and this will inevitably throw the spanner of personal interest into the conduct of an industry which is, admittedly, one of the key industries of this country, and on which very much depends at present.
The recasting is one of the things which, I think, will injure the commercial prospects of the country. Another aspect of the Bill will do even deeper damage. The terms of the Bill are such as to strike a blow at the savings movement of the country. They will strike a blow for two reasons. Admittedly, gas shares are held by numerous small investors as almost the equivalent of Post Office savings and trustee securities. No closer tie could be established for those with a few pounds in an undertaking than to place it in one from which they derive the heat to cook the Sunday joint; they can see the gasholder at the end of the street and smell the gas mains. Nothing comes closer to the life of the ordinary man and woman than the gas industry. In some areas, such as in Scotland, it was largely a municipal industry. In other areas it was largely a company industry; but if it was 388 a company industry it was hedged about, limited and circumscribed by that most careful and meticulous set of laws which Parliament has passed during the long history of this industry, and it was regarded as an absolute security.
The £500 unit holding, which is the average holding in this industry, will be reduced from an annual income of £25 a year to £17 10s. That is an act without any excuse or justification whatever. It is only a small sum—2s. 9d. or 2s. 10d. a week—but to the people who hold the majority of this stock, these small sums in shillings per week are of the greatest importance. If they find that their savings are liable to an arbitrary reduction such as this by the Government of the day—taking 2s. to 3s. a week off stock which they regarded as part of the makeup of things, does any one think that they will be encouraged to put money into Dalton pounds—or Cripps pounds, for that matter?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I mean leavin: their money in Government securities which have only the signature of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to back them, instead of metal, pipes and gas undertakings which, as I said before, and as the hon. Member agreed, they can see, touch, and very often smell.
§ Mr. Scollan
Does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman know perfectly well that the money which was put into these undertakings is the same paper money which he is now condemning?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Today the Government supporters seem to be excelling themselves. If the hon. Member for Western Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) thinks that the money put into gas stock before the last war is anything like the money which people are being paid nowadays, let him look up any table of indices and he will see there is a great difference.
There is another point of very great importance—the co-partnership movement, which is admittedly one of the most promising experiments in our industrial life and is being extensively practiced in the gas industry. It commends itself to employers and employees. Testimony over a number of years has been paid to 389 it from both sides. The hon. Member tot Western Renfrew must not shake his head. He must look up the document, On the subject.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
He cannot have read them all through. A speech was indeed made yesterday by the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) which made it quite clear that a certain number of trade union officials were themselves bitterly opposed—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
If the Trades Union Congress has not trade union officials, then we are deeply mistaken about the composition of the Trades Union Congress. I am speaking, however, now of a Debate in this House only yesterday, where the Minister remarked that there was no hostility on the part of the Government to the co-partnership schemes. The bon. Member for Yardley made it perfectly clear that in his view there was hostility to those schemes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The Minister has had a bad time of it. The suggestion now is that the Minister in moving a Bill was himself misinformed on one of the fundamental—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I must finish my sentence. The suggestion now is that the Minister was misinformed on one of the cardinal points of the Bill, which is a suggestion of a most damaging kind and one which I myself would not have made.
§ Mr. Scollan
I must thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. May I say this—if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman reads the passage again he will find that the Minister was speaking for himself. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman reads what the other Member—[Laughter.] It is perfectly true; it is 390 quite all right. The hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) was speaking for the British Trades Union Congress, to which all trade unions send delegates. When they discussed co-partnership they turned it down and condemned it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
We know that there is a Motion on the Order Paper signed by 20 hon. Members of this House indicating their hostility to the views of the Government, but I never understood before that Ministers were supposed to be speaking in this House only for themselves—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
—whereas trade union officials speak on behalf of their supporters. We shall remember that. When the Minister says again, as he has said on this occasion, "on our part," we shall understand that he is merely speaking for the Front Bench and that we must wait for the representative of the Trades Union Congress to countersign the declaration or deny it at a later stage. For the present, we will take the old-fashioned view that the Minister is speaking on behalf of the Government, and the Government relies on the support of its Members.
Co-partnership schemes, at any rate as far as the Minister was concerned, were desirable things. He merely indicated that from his point of view he did not think they could be preserved in the structure of the Bill, although he would like them to be. Indeed, that is not astonishing, for the co-partnership or profit sharing schemes were of the very greatest benefit to the employees in those schemes. They are drawing from 3s. to 5s. a week above the average by virtue of the profit sharing schemes and certain of them were getting a great deal more. In Newport, Mon., for instance, the employees received in 1946 the sum of 12s. to 15s. a week above the standard rate, and that was in a company which had succeeded in reducing the average price of gas by 56 per cent. since before the war and had increased its sales by more than four times. The customers benefited, the services were greater, and the employees were receiving from 12s. to 15s. a week. These were all positive and concrete advantages which will certainly be gravely jeopardised by the Measure before us, and in many cases will be swept away altogether.
391 The blow which is struck at savings is certainly not confined only to investors and to employees, who had the advantage of the profit sharing schemes, but also, of course, extends to the local authorities, by whom it is bitterly felt. They are about to receive very harsh terms. Local authorities are handing over their valuable undertakings at a small fraction of the cost. I was looking up the local undertaking of a town well known in my own country and still more prominent at the present time—the town of Paisley. The capital of that undertaking is £600,000 with a reserve fund of £70,000 and outstanding loans of £136,000. So for an undertaking worth £600,000 Paisley is going to receive £66,000 if this Bill passes. All I can say is that the Government are sending their man into action on a pretty stricken field. The cry "Vote for the Government candidate and get £60,000 for what cost £600,000 to produce" may appeal south of the Border, but I doubt if it will have any great appeal north of it.
The uneasiness about this, of course, is widespread. A city usually very favourable to the proposals of this Government is the city of Glasgow. The Corporation of that city debated this matter only very recently, and on the question of severance the Parliamentary Bills Committee decided that the £2 million the Government proposed to set aside should be more than doubled. There was a division on whether the city should ask for higher compensation and it was only carried in favour of the Government by the casting vote of the chairman. These are not the usual narrow margins by which the Government obtains support in the Glasgow Municipal Corporation, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) knows only too well.
These are three angles from which the major interests of the nation will be greatly prejudiced, because if injury is done to the private investor, to the interests of the employee and to the local authority a great deal had been done to injure the general competence which people feel in the orderly development of private or public concerns such as the gas industry. This will lead to many anomalies. Some local authorities decided some time ago to sell their under takings to private corporations. The private corporations, of course, paid the 392 market value for those undertakings, and the local authorities, who had the foresight to sell their undertakings and who got full market value for them, in view of the fact that the Government are going to pay the compensation laid down in this Bill, may smile at their foolish brethren—or sisters as the case may be—who hung on to their undertakings in the belief that they would get a square deal from the State. I have the figures relating to several of these transactions here if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to see them. But I do not suppose he wishes to pursue this rather painful subject.
The next point is that the Bill undoubtedly removes a great portion of public control. It follows the familiar anti-democratic method to which we are accustomed in the Government's schemes. The third of the industry which is at present in public ownership is in democratic public ownership. It is under elected representatives. It is under representatives in the choice of whom the people have had a say. Under these conditions, the ordinary, small individual has often learned great business and come into contact with the management of great affairs and great industrial undertakings. The gas committee, the water committee, the electricity committee—these, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) and other hon. Members will know, were their apprenticeships, the schools in which great affairs have been brought to the knowledge of simple folk who otherwise would never have had control of enterprises with millions of pounds of capital and many scores of thousands of employees. All that is to be removed, and removed for ever, in the name of nationalisation and under the pretext of democracy.
At present, with respect to the municipal gas undertakings—in Scotland they are 86 per cent. of the gas producers of the country—that third of the industry is carried on, roughly speaking, by 275 undertakings which, as hon. Members versed in local authority matters will well know, have many hundreds of people who get an intimate acquaintance with the working of the industry. The representatives can be approached by consumers or by employees, as the case may be, as they will be moving among them. They will meet them. They can be canvassed on the hustings. They are people who 393 can be buttonholed and questioned as they walk down the street. All those are to be replaced by a third of the new employed or consultative officers. These will come down, roughly speaking, to 33 paid posts and 123 members on the consultative council, which is, roughly speaking, a third of the paid posts and of the consultative council which the Minister is setting up. This new election is to be carried on under the Minister's control, under his hat. The Minister appoints these people. These are all the nominees of the Minister. This is the new form of election, 33 jobs and 123 consultants or privy councillors of the Minister, who are to be selected by the Minister at his own sweet will. That is a poor substitute, and certainly not a democratic substitute, for the process of popular election by which the committees of those 200-odd organisations were selected by the ordinary people of the land.
Of course, it is true that in many cases those undertakings were difficult and were obscurantist. I myself have felt very bitter against the Glasgow Corporation. The hon. Member for Bridgeton will well remember the long controversy that went on as to whether they should take the coke oven gas from a neighbouring industrial undertaking. But that is the working of our democracy. It is the cradle of democracy. Those are the bulwarks against the weakening of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned the country only at the week-end when he spoke of the danger of the growth of a totalitarian State here. That is the way in which such dangers are resisted. Of course, Glasgow Corporation is awkward, and none should know it better than I Of course, a private company may be an awkward and difficult customer. Of course, you may have clashes of opinion, extending it may be over years. This is the process by which free men get to understand the working of their country. All this is to be rubbed out, and substituted by 33 jobs and 123 consultants.
The only argument that can be brought in favour of this proposal is that which is implicit in much of the Heyworth Committee's Report, that were it not for the Government proposals the gas industry is doomed, that it is in some ways a decaying industry, and that some great new impulse, some surge of life, must be brought into it to rescue it from imminent 394 peril. That, by the way, was not the argument that was prayed in aid in nationalising electricity industries. We do not blame Ministers for altering their arguments to suit the case they have in view. Our contention is that this argument is inaccurate. This calamity howl which the Minister emitted about the gas industry is in no way justified. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) compared the industry with the gas industry of Europe. Admittedly ours is much greater than any of the European industries. I would now compare it with the gas industry of the United States, which is the greatest industrial country in the world.
Why should we always run down our own achievements in favour of the achievements of other countries? The Minister applauds vehemently at present. He should have heard some of the speeches that were delivered about the gas industry only yesterday. The gas industry of the United States serves a population of 48 millions. I am quoting from the "Gas World Year Book, 1948." The United Kingdom gas industry serves a population of 41 million. The United States industry is operated under 10,500,000 meters and United Kingdom under 11,500,000 meters, and that is for a country three times the size of ours. These figures are not per head; they are the gross figures [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the relative population?"] It is enormously greater in the States, which shows how much more efficient our gas industry is, and how much greater service it gives than is given even in the United States.
The output of gas, similarly, was, for the whole of the United States in 1946. 476,000,000 great units—thousand cubic feet. In the United Kingdom the figure was 430,000,000 great units. That is to say, we were producing very nearly as much gas in this small country, which is a quarter the size of the State of Texas, as the whole United States was producing from ocean to ocean. In that year we had 68,000 miles of mains against 89,000 miles of mains in the United States. Those are remarkable figures and do not show an inefficient or decaying industry; nor do the figures of output.
§ Major Vernon (Dulwich)
Is not density of population the real test and not its 395 quantity? Is it not foolish to have gas mains in a thinly populated country like America, which is enormously greater?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. and gallant Member surely will not contend that the whole of the United States is thinly populated. There are areas in the United States which would compare very strongly even with the industrial area of the Clydeside. I could not say more than that. I am giving the gross figures. Admittedly the United States does spread over a great continent, but it also has collections of industrial undertakings and concentrations of population which compare with, and even surpass, the highest concentrations in this country.
I still say that for this country to be producing 430 great units of gas as against 476 great units of gas in the whole of America from ocean to ocean is a sign of an industry which is right up to date and right on its toes. The figures of increase of output in this country tell the same tale. Before the war there was, it is true, a slight recession. In 1937 the figure was 316,000 million cubic feet and in 1938 314,000 million, but the figures have risen. They fell during the war as low as 305,000 million in 1940 during the blitz. But since then they have gone up to 320,000 million in 1941, 349,000 million in 1942, 353,000 million in 1943, 369,000 million in 1944, 391,000 million in 1945 and 429,000 million in 1946.
The Minister may use the argument that the figures increased naturally and that the rationing of coal and the unrationing of gas meant a great shift of consumption towards the unrationed article. However, look at the response of the producers during that time and look at the way in which the curve of output rises. The item of rationed coal is one of the factors which the Heyworth Committee did not take into account. That shows how impossible it is for a Committee of whatever eminence to foresee all the circumstances. There were many circumstances, as Mr. Hey-worth would admit, which it was impossible for him to foresee. The sum total of these figures shows an industry which has responded in a remarkable way to the industrial needs of this country, which is actively developing and which could well be spared the fundamental and drastic recasting which is prepared for it under this Bill.
396 The only excuse that could be given is that some great development was about to take place. The Government have put in the Bill figures which will not bear examination, especially with the White Papers that are coming like snowflakes on us now explaining how impossible it will be to obtain material or equipment at any such rate. For £1 million the gas industry would obtain 6,000 tons of steel for plant and 2,000 tons of iron. For million it would get 60,000 tons of steel and for £100 million 600,000. What are the chances of the gas industry or any other industry of that order having plant delivered to it at that rate in the years immediately ahead of us?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
So the main argument of the Government for the Bill falls entirely. The only defence for this recasting, as the Minister himself has said, is integration. But integration does not mean a number of people sitting at one board table instead of at 10 board tables; it means the linking up of plant, new ovens, new mains and new grids of one kind and another. There is a plan in the recesses of the companies' pigeon holes for a gas main running from London to the South Coast, as was suggested by the Minister yesterday as one of the things that might be undertaken to equate the summer load of the coast towns with the winter load of London. Not for 20 years will it be possible for any such thing to be constructed, and I do not believe it will be possible for it to be constructed then.
These are pipe dreams, they have no relation to reality; yet they are the only real basis for the Bill which the Minister is bringing forward. Integration, size—unless these things are to be correlated with some kind of actual physical movement and development, the House will be asked to pass a Bill on false pretences. During the past few years the industry has carried out some £50 million of development. In its present state it has approved or under close consideration by the Ministry £100 million of development. When the Minister has cleared off the £100 million of development with which the industry is only too anxious to proceed, for which it has drawn up plans and for which in many cases it has approval, then will be the time 397 for Ministers to come forward and say that there must be prodding, that there must be more initiative and that they must put in people to drive forward this laggard and sluggish industry. Until that time, let them fulfil the orders which the industry has on its order books and be more humble in their approach to the industry.
Ministers seem somehow to believe that the Heyworth Committee was in favour of their contentions. Unless we are to accept the assumption that anything big is nationalisation, that is totally unfounded. The Heyworth Report is not nationalisation. It is nothing like nationalisation. If it were, I would ask the Minister to take just one acid test: If the Report is nationalisation, would he accept the Report as the structure of the coal industry? Even the Minister does not dare to suggest that that would be nationalisation as demanded by his election literature or even as he and his right hon. Friends pass it through this House. The Heyworth Committee considered some very definite things and it brought forward answers some of which are right and some of which are wrong, but nobody can contend that the Heyworth Report is in favour of nationalisation. The Minister will not seriously contend that that is so.
The review of this Bill which was given by the "Manchester Guardian" finished up with some very pertinent words. It said:The Government is doing itself harm by this kind of thing.It is not only that the Government is doing itself harm by this kind of thing; it is doing the nation harm by this kind of thing. It is because of that, that we shall divide against the Bill this evening, and it is because of that, that I have much pleasure in moving the rejection of the Bill.
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add; "upon this day six months."
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) leaned heavily on the "Manchester Guardian." As a Mancunian myself, I was pleased to hear that, because one has some pride in that paper. However, I feel that the right hon. and gallant Member might quote accurately. The 398 heated way in which he took objection to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) seemed to me to be quite unjustified, because the "Manchester Guardian" plainly said:Nationalisation offers a much better opportunity of reorganising the industry into more efficient unitsThen it went on to say:The practical issue is whether the structure that the Government proposes is one that will take the opportunity.
§ Mr. Robens
I am not challenging the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's accuracy at all. I am saying that these are the two points which the "Manchester Guardian" makes, and I am going to deal with them.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Well, we shall be able to refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think he challenged me, and I am entitled to ask him to complete the quotation he gave after the sentence:… whether the structure that the Government proposes is one that will take the opportunity.—which was:About this Mr. Gaitskell was quite unconvincing.
§ Mr. Robens
That might be a clever debating point, but it is not the point at issue, which is that the "Manchester Guardian" agreed with nationalisation. What they said, as an opinion, was that they were not certain that the way in which the units were formed would present the right opportunity of achieving what the Bill sets out to do. That was not the point on which I was accusing the right hon. and gallant Member of inaccuracy. He read the last sentence, which was:The Government is doing itself harm by this kind of thing.But that was in relation to the municipalities, and the way they are treated on 399 compensation, not on the Bill itself; and when the right hon. and gallant Member reads HANSARD he will see that he quoted that sentence in order to nullify what the "Manchester Guardian" said earlier in its leader.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is a challenge on accuracy. I certainly did not read out the whole "Manchester Guardian" leader. There are many quotations in it much harsher than the one I chose; for instance, where it said:Mr. Brendan Bracken fairly described the Council as a 'farcical body'.I did not bother the House with all these points; naturally I dealt with the salient points in the leader.
§ Mr. Robens
I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Member read those parts which suited his case. And now may I bring him back to the points at issue, which are the ones that matter? I was saying, and I repeat, that he took the last sentence completely out of its context, and certainly did not indicate what the "Manchester Guardian" leader writer was trying to express. However, he and I can read this paper in the Library and have a nice little discussion.
Now let me deal with the point about the units being too big. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Brendan Bracken)—
§ Mr. Robens
I am sorry, then, that I gave him so much courtesy; perhaps I should have put him in the proper category.
§ Mr. Robens
No, it was courtesy too. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth—[Laughter.] Is it all right? My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth was telling us yesterday that there should be integration and larger units. Today the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities has been saying completely the opposite. Yesterday, an hon. Member, whose name I forget for the moment, said that he was not in agreement with 400 integration. The Opposition ought to make up its mind just what it really is saying.
§ Mr. Robens
I am suggesting that the Opposition ought to get together and decide just where their opposition lies. Then, if they will put up a case, we shall be able to answer it. Today, however, hon. Members opposite are asking me to reply to two diametrically opposite cases, one in which the right hon. Member for Bournemouth says he believes in integration, and the other in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says he does not.
With regard to the point about the areas being too big, Mr. Geoffrey Heyworth suggested that there should be 10 areas. He did that after careful study. The Bill provides for 12, so we have made them smaller areas. The Bill does not then go further and dictate to the Area Boards how they should organise their areas, and the Opposition would do well to make up its mind on this point too. On the one hand, hon. Members opposite complain about political interference, about the Government, calling it bureaucratic, a Whitehall dictatorship and the rest, and yet it suggests that we should say to our Area Boards precisely how they should organise their areas. What have we done? We have set up the Area Boards in the Bill and left them free, and good, sensible businessmen will organise their areas in a way in which each area can be best adapted for the job in hand. It must be flexible because each area will differ considerably.
The right hon. and gallant Member also produced some figures and I would like him to check these. He said that the Northern Board would have 30,000 employees, the Yorkshire Board 31,000 employees, and the Lancashire and Cheshire Board 78,000 employees. I make that a total of 139,000 employees, but in the whole of the country in the gas industry in 1946 the number of employees was only 132,000. He then went on to quote capital figures, and they may be just as wrong as were those figures.
401 There was a good deal of talk by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about democracy. We are as concerned for the rights of the people and the protection of the consumer as anyone, and I say very definitely that, within the construction of this Bill, the consumer has a bigger part to play, and a much more democratic approach to the whole position, than he has had in the past. Even though we are beset by shortages of steel and the like, it is utterly absurd to suggest that that is a good reason for postponing this Bill and not going forward with development plans on as large a scale as we would like. Quite clearly, development only on a modified scale will be possible because of shortages of steel and equipment, but that is no reason why the great work of planning which has to be done ought not to go on, nor why this Bill should not go through and the Area Boards be enabled to get down to their tasks.
From the Debate yesterday there seemed general agreement on all sides of the House on the necessity for larger units. The Heyworth Report said:the existing structure is restrictive of further progress. In other words, the existing forms of organisation no longer suit present-day conditions, and are even less likely to provide the scope to meet the problems of the future.It also says:The direction of the required change is clearly marked, namely, towards groupings into larger units.If we accept that, the only issue between us seems to be the way in which we shall do it. The general tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who led for the Opposition was that there ought to be larger units and integration. The issue is whether we do it by socialising the industry, or by adopting the Tory doctrinaire policy of private enterprise. What was the only constructive suggestion which the right hon. Member for Bournemouth made yesterday? [An HON. MEMBER: "Was there one?"] He suggested that there should be gas commissioners. He reminds me of the character in "Itma"—"Dilly-Dally." There was a Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission. If it is desired to delay and put back reorganisation, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman would do the trick. The Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, in the period 1930–39, did not succeed in bringing about a single amalgamation, 402 although there were some voluntary amalgamations during that period. The failure of the Commission was caused by the opposition of the owners, and The inadequate and complex legal powers. It was set up to do precisely what the suggested gas commissioners would do, to promote amalgamations in the industry. The President of the Board of Trade wrote, a book, and in it there is something which should interest hon. Members about the delay which takes place when these matters are left to commissioners. Dealing with the Commission, he said:The attempts of the Commission in its first two years of life to assist voluntary amalgamations met with complete failure, and it soon found that its powers to promote schemes were extremely limited.It is clear that the only constructive suggestion which is being made, that there should be commissioners to deal with this question of integration, is one which merely means more and more delay.
§ Mr. Robens
I thought the right hon. Gentleman had been expressing concern about giving more power to Whitehall.
§ Mr. Bracken
I do not think the hon. Gentleman wishes to misrepresent me. Yesterday I outlined the powers which should be given, and said that Parliament should take a continuous interest in the work of the commissioners.
§ Mr. Robens
I have not the slightest doubt that that would be so, but there would still be delay. In this Bill we get integration speedily. The bulk of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was then devoted to condemnation of the Bill, but I was interested in his words about defeatists abroad. I do not think anyone in the House would disagree with what he said. What I would like him to do is to have a quiet word with his noble Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Digby) who, apparently, is spending hi time in the United States and elsewhere running down this country.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby (Dorset, Western)
I think I have been referred to, and I am not clear what the hon. Gentleman meant by his remarks.
§ Mr. Robens
I did not know that the hon. Member was a noble Lord, but he will forgive me if I quoted the wrong constituency.
§ Mr. Robens
Yes, South Dorset. The right hon. Gentleman might have a quiet word with his noble Friend in order that he should take some note of what the Leader of the Opposition said:When I am abroad I always make a rule never to criticise or attack my own country. I have no patience with Englishmen who use the hospitality of a friendly nation to decry their own.I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would deal with his own people, and not suggest that hon. Members on this side of the House are doing what his friends are doing.
§ Mr. Robens
I thought the right hon. Gentleman spoke very well about the opportunity that exists for the extension of the gas industry. He pointed out that this is the age of chemistry, and I would not disagree with him for a moment. Under this Bill we have the intention of developing to the fullest extent the potentialities of coal as a source of chemicals, as well as a source of fuel. The gas industry is a very important source of chemicals, dyestuffs, plastics, fertilisers, explosives and the like—the list is a very long one—and we hope to develop that side quickly. The carbonising industries have also been a source of liquid fuel, benzole mixture before the war, and pitch-mixture during the war. These are established developments, but there may well be important and novel scientific developments in this industry in the future.
That is one of the reasons for the new Scientific Advisory Council which the Minister announced yesterday. The Bill provides full scope for these developments, particularly in the power to manufacture, treat or sell the by-products and derivatives obtained through carbonisation. The research Clause gives full flexibility to the Council and the Area Boards, and there is to be a general programme agreed between the Council and the Minister. So we are agreed that there is a great deal of new wealth to come from the proper development of the gas industry. We on this side of the House do not intend to, see this great new source of wealth utilised 404 to line the pockets of a privileged few. That new source of wealth belongs to the nation. Perhaps that is the real reason for the opposition to the nationalisation of the gas industry.
I wish to answer a few of the points made by hon. Members yesterday, before I deal with the main case of the Opposition, which, obviously, was repeated from time to time—workers' co-partnership, consumers' protection, etc. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) said that Birmingham opposed this Bill. It is interesting to see that Mr. G. C. Pearson the Engineer-in-Chief of the Birmingham Gas Department said, in the "Gas World":It is notorious to many of us that a number of gasworks are working much below full efficiency, and others under difficulties that can best be overcome by a system of centralisation and co-ordination. Owing to individual jealousies, such an arrangement can only come about by some form of compulsory central control best attained by nationalisation.The hon. Member expressed some distrust about the power to manufacture plant and fittings and suggested that there was a threat to the industrialists who were at present producing such equipment. The fact is that some existing companies have power to manufacture. These powers are taken over. If the manufacturers in the industry go on developing and giving the Area Boards and the Gas Council a fair deal in relation to their products, and provided that they do not attempt to form price rings, it seems to me that they have nothing to fear from these powers. It is proper and right that the socialised industry should be protected against the worst form of capitalism—the price ring. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) made an even more novel suggestion. He apparently had not been at the proper meetings of the Conservative Party to decide policy in relation to this matter—
§ Mr. Robens
—because he said that each fuel and power industry should be under a separate Minister. Was it not the Coalition Government that laid upon my right hon. Friend certain obligations and decided that he was to be charged… with the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain, of maintaining and improving the safety, health and 405 welfare of persons employed in or about mines and quarries therein, and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, whether produced in Great Britain or not.It is absurd to suggest that he could carry out this obligation and that at the same time each of these industries be under a separate Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) asked how the Area Board personnel will be chosen. They will be chosen strictly in accordance with the Bill, which says that the Minister must choose these people from among the persons appearing to him to be qualified—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh at that and regard it as very funny. There are a number of hon. Gentlemen whom I would like to buy at the price I put upon them and sell them at their own estimation of themselves. I should make a nice profit. [An HON. MEMBER: "The profit motive"] Someone must make an appointment, and there may be varying opinions on appointments, but at least the Minister must appoint people with experience and capacity, and the type of experience they must have is stated. The Minister will appoint on the ability of a man to do the job, and ability should be the only test.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) asked me if there would be any further breakdown beyond Area Boards. The answer is that if there is any further sub-division it will be a matter for the Area Boards themselves. We are not laying down by legislation how the Area Boards should do their job. They are free to carry out the obligations imposed upon them by the Bill, and the question of a further break-down into several units within the Area Board is a matter for them. As to early appointments of consultative councils, there is point in what my hon. Friend says, and we shall do our best to see that they are appointed early so that there is no unnecessary gap.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said something about the National Coal Board and coke oven integration. I need not go into that in great detail. There are clearly contained in the Bill provisions for joint schemes between the National Coal Board and the gas Area Board, where they are operating in a 406 particular area, and if they cannot agree on a joint scheme they may submit their separate schemes to the Minister, who will then have to decide which scheme shall be operated. There is complete coordination there.
The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) wanted to know if there was or was not to be competition between gas and electricity. He said that the Minister had not attempted to answer the fundamental question of whether he believed that gas and electricity should be in competition. He then went on to say:It is quite clear that, under this Bill, gas is to be the Cinderella of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Both the Coal Board and the Electricity Board are given powers in relation to their younger brethren on the Gas Board of a nature which will make the economic working of gas impossible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1948; Vol. 447, C. 317.]Dealing with the last statement first, it would be interesting to know why the gas Area Boards will be so powerless in relation to the N.C.B. and the B.E.A. I cannot see anything in the Bill to suggest that. The Minister was quite clear yesterday about competition between gas and electricity. He said:Nor should we overlook the value of retaining competition between electricity and gas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1948; Vol. 447, c. 237.]This was to be on the following conditions: First, full information to consumers so that they could make a proper choice. Secondly, each consumer to pay for his fuel what it cost to provide. He made it clear that he would not dictate to consumers who would have a choice of different types of fuel and full information. His view was that there should be competition inside the framework of policy which would have regard to the national interest.
A good deal of discussion took place on compensation and matters in connection with finance which I feel can be best dealt with in Committee. In any event, the Lord President will have something to say about that when he winds up the Debate. The hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) wound up for the Opposition yesterday. He said that the Bill was not on all fours with the Heyworth Report. Does that mean that hon. Members opposite would have agreed with the Bill if it had been based on the Heyworth Report? I do not understand the point.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
The point was raised by hon. Members behind the Parliamentary Secretary who were trying to make out that the Bill was the same as the Heyworth Report, and it was in answer to that point that I made that statement.
§ Mr. Robens
This again shows the confusion of mind of the Opposition in their approach to this Bill—[Interruption].
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was very touchy when he was interrupted.
§ Mr. Robens
I am not a bit touchy, and I do not mind being called simple if that is what hon. Members opposite think of me—as simple as some of the readers of their rag of a newspaper.
The hon. Member for Ecclesall said that public opinion outside is against the nationalisation of gas. What is his contact which enables him to tell us what public opinion outside is? Is it based on a visit with his friends to the works of the Gas Light and Coke Company where they had an interesting and happy time, or was it obtained from the trade Press?—because the trade Press, in the main, has favoured nationalisation. If the hon. Member really wants to have public opinion—[Laughter]—I am glad to see that hon. Members opposite enjoy that. I can well understand why they think this is uproariously funny, because for the first time in political history a Government has come to this House to implement its election pledges. We made it quite clear at the right time that, if elected, we would socialise the fuel and power industry.
§ Mr. Robens
This Bill is the final chapter in the implementation of that pledge. I suggest that that form of public opinion is much more reliable than the hon. Member for Ecclesall.
I will now turn to the two main points which were the subject of discussion yesterday, and will deal with a number of comments which were made. First, may I deal with the position of workers 408 in the industry, and say something about co-partnership? Very naturally, when nationalisation schemes are being discussed there is much conjecture among the workers in the industry as to where they fit into the new structure. I will deal with the provisions in this Bill in relation to that point. I hope it will clear up any misapprehensions which may exist, because I look forward to the development of the gas industry and to the very notable and significant part which the workers can play. Relations in the industry have been good throughout the years, due to the very excellent joint industrial councils, both the national council and the district councils The Bill does not upset any existing machinery. It places firmly upon the Gas Council itself, and not upon the Area Boards, the onus of responsibility or the obligation for the conclusion of agreements with respect to the establishment and maintenance of machinery for the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment.
Immediately, trade union officials and trade unionists in the industry generally will wonder what that implies. They will wonder whether it means that they can no longer make settlements with the Area Boards. The answer is that it means nothing of the kind. It enables the trade unions and the Gas Council, on a national level, to decide upon the type of machinery which they want to extend throughout the whole of the industry. They may feel, for example, that no change is required and that the present machinery is quite adequate. On the other hand, they may desire to improve the machinery, or change it in the light of the new circumstances. This Clause ensures the utmost flexibility, and it gives the two parties complete freedom to get on with the job of deciding between themselves what they want for the industry. There is no interference by the Minister or by Parliament.
As a trade union official, I am of opinion that a good deal of irritation which is felt by the rank and file worker who is not on the actual scene of negotiation, is due to what seems to him to be the endless delay in negotiations. It will be up to the unions and to the Gas Council to provide machinery, where it does not exist, to remove that type of irritation, and to ensure that the structure which they set up will provide a complete 409 linking together, from the rank and file worker right up to the negotiating committee at national level.
There were many speeches yesterday about co-partnership. With the exception of the acquisition of shares, I know nothing that co-partnership provides which cannot be obtained under the provisions of this Bill. Apart from the acquisition of shares, I have heard no indication from any hon. Member that co-partnership provides something which cannot be provided under this Bill. It is very significant that the largest gas undertakers in the world—the Gas Light and Coke Company—have recently devised a new system of bonus allocation, based not upon profits but upon a scale of total gas made—in other words, an incentive bonus. I am given to understand that that may be due to the feeling that bonus on profits is losing its effect as an incentive to workers.
How many co-partners are entitled to appoint directors? Listening to some of the speeches yesterday, one would think that the workers were on the boards of directors and were helping to run this industry in a very big way. I understand that there are only three instances where the right to go on the board exists, and where co-partners are entitled to appoint directors there is a limit on the number, that number being three. Therefore, their influence must be very small indeed. According to figures furnished by the Gas Co-partnership Association, the stock held by employees is a little over £3 million, as compared with a total stock of £170 million. This is after 50 years of co-partnership. By the time this Bill has become law everybody will have a share.
§ Mr. Robens
When we come to the other aspects of the Bill, affecting the safety, health, and welfare of the worker, there is a slight change. The obligation of consultation applies not only to the Gas Council, but to the Area Boards as well. The reason is clear. Health, safety and welfare have national and local implications. It is easy to work out a broad national policy for these things, but it is obvious that local circumstances will have a great bearing on the best way in which that policy should be carried out. Accordingly, the Clause dealing with this matter places the responsibility both on 410 the Gas Council and the Area Boards. I cannot over-emphasise the very important part which workers can play in making nationalisation an outstanding success. I hope they will appreciate that there devolves on the organised worker a new and added responsibility, which he should freely and gladly accept. What they will do now is not pile up profits for a few privileged shareholders but make a contribution to the national well-being.
I want to see the workers in the industry alive to this responsibility. The best schemes of consultation and negotiation cannot produce the best results unless the fullest use is made of the machine by the workers themselves. This means that they should attend meetings of their associations to make themselves fully aware of developments in carrying out the functions for which the trade union movement was founded. At the same time, they should give thought as to how they can best assist towards the greater efficiency of the industry. A wealth of ideas is to be found among workers at all levels. Once machinery is provided whereby those ideas can be pooled, talked about, and finally crystallised into constructive proposals, we cannot fail to bring about the marked improvement which this Bill seeks to achieve. We no longer desire that there should be a psychological approach to the two sides of the industry—by the employers and the workers. We want them to go forward as partners in the industry, each recognising the interdependence of one with another, and that only a successful and prosperous industry can bring about greater benefits to workers and consumers.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this Bill is the protection of the consumer. It is vitally necessary that in any publicly-owned enterprise, having a monopoly of service, there should be complete and adequate safeguards for the protection of the consumer. I go further; there should be machinery to enable the consumer to play his full part in the development of that service. The aim of all nationalised industry is to promote much greater efficiency than was obtained under private enterprise. Nationalisation is only the means to an end, and, that being so, great care has been taken in the Bill to provide machinery which will justify, by result, our Socialist theory of public, ownership.
§ Mr. Robens
We shall be having a Debate on that soon, when we shall be glad to deal with it. I want the consumer to play his part in the promotion of a more economical and more efficient gas industry and, at the same time, to ensure he is adequately protected against monopoly abuse. He must not be overcharged; he must be entitled to know that he is getting what he has paid for in quantity and quality.
§ Mr. Robens
No. The consumer must also be fully protected against any danger from gas, and the Bill provides for responsibility for gas testing and gas meter testing to be transferred to the Minister. The Minister will act on behalf of the consumer to ensure that his rights are safeguarded. This follows the line of the Heyworth Report. The Minister will take active steps to protect the consumer. To improve administrative arrangements and staff, and to bring into being the additional instruments that will be required, will take some time, but nevertheless this nation-wide service will give full protection to the consumer.
Now we have to see whether the Bill safeguards the consumer against overcharging, and enables him to make known his views. In each of the 12 areas a consultative council is to be formed. The chairman of the council will be a member of the Area Board. The number on the council is variable—the minimum being 20 and the maximum 30—and will depend on the respective areas and their particular needs. Not less than half the number will be representatives of local authorities. The local authority associations will compile a panel from which the Minister will make his choice. Here, there is a little variation from the Electricity Act, in that while a lower limit for local authority representatives has been fixed an upper limit has not been fixed. This will ensure that the elected representatives of the people in the area will have an adequate voice in carrying out their obligations to look after consumers' interests.
412 In addition, the council will have on it representatives of commerce, industry, and labour. In the appointment of the Scottish consultative council, my right hon. Friend will consult the Secretary of State for Scotland. The terms of reference of the councils are very wide. They must consider any matter affecting the supply of gas in the area, and must be informed—and this is very important—of the general plans and arrangements of the Area Board. This is not a one-way traffic of the consultative council making representations to the Area Board. The Area Board can refer to them other matters on which they want the advice and guidance of the council.
There may be a difference between the consultative council and the Area Board, which may be regarded as a defect in the Area Board. How are we to deal with that? If there is a difference, the council can make direct representations to the Minister, who can refer that difference to a person appointed by him, after consultation with the Lord Chancellor, or, in the case of Scotland, with the Secretary of State for Scotland. When the Minister has the decision he can direct the Area Board to remedy the defect. The provisions of the Clause covering consultative Councils do not stop merely at having a consultative body in any one area. They provide for the appointment of local committees, and even for the appointment of individuals to represent consumers. A group of consumers in a remote area can have appointed from among their midst an individual who will be the voice of that community in relation to its consumer requirements and gas supply.
It seems to me that that is a very excellent tie-up; the consumers of gas, wherever they may be, are in complete and close contact with the Area Boards in all matters of this kind. The efficiency of consultative councils, the way in which they can do their job, depends entirely upon the calibre of the men and women appointed to sit upon them. I am perfectly certain that in this work we can rely, once again, upon the great public spirit which is manifest in our people by the work they have done for so many years upon local authorities and in voluntary organisations.
I believe that the Bill presented by my right hon. Friend is a good, clean, sensible, business-like way of re-organising 413 the gas industry of this country, and it is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
The Parliamentary Secretary, in his opening remarks, made some play with the claim that there had not been uniformity in the presentation by the Opposition of their case. I think the record in HANSARD will reveal the position, but it is dangerous ground. Particularly so, as I seemed to detect at one stage of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech the real reason in his mind for the passing of this Measure when he said:We have no intention of allowing the profit makers to line their pockets at the expense of this industry.That was not in accordance with the words of the Lord President of the Council, nor, indeed, was it in accord with the case presented yesterday by the Minister.
For the third time in three years hon. Members have been asked to use their powers of discrimination in connection with an industrial problem. The test is a very real one, but on this occasion, at least, we are fortified with a degree of knowledge which many of us had not in our possession two and a half years ago. What were then aspirations and generalities have now become facts and results. We cannot get by any longer on mere verbiage.
Yesterday, the Minister, I thought very wisely, did not rest his case on this being the completion of a trilogy. On the other hand, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who is not in his place this afternoon, in a very excitable speech seemed to think that the completion of that trilogy settled the issue—anyhow to his personal satisfaction. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas) made his case on the desirability of standardising prices. The Minister's case was, generally speaking, on three propositions. He stressed that the present structure of the industry was a bad one; that there was a mass of legislation to get rid of before that structure could be righted, and that there was no other means of righting the structure, other than by nationalisation. I will attempt to deal with those points as I go along.
Before I do so I would say a word regarding the Heyworth Report, about 414 which a good deal has already been said. When an eminent commission produces a report such as the Heyworth Report, we must have regard to it, but it is not our business to do more than to have regard for it. If we do that then at least we must be logical. The Minister quoted three reports. He said that the Reid Committee's Report had advised on one occasion against nationalisation, the McGowan Report had been lukewarm, and, finally, the Heyworth Report had coma down in favour of nationalisation. Times had changed, he said, and as the years went on, opinions had hardened in favour of nationalisation. If we go back a bit further we have the Sankey Report. That Report came out in favour of nationalising the coal industry, and five years later a much more independent Commission, the Samuel Commission, came out against it. I have yet to hear of a single signatory to the Reid Report who recommended the nationalisation of the coal industry. Yet Parliament was no doubt wise to decide this matter for themselves. We cannot have these matters decided for us by Reports, however eminent.
There seems to be a tendency nowadays to take the lazy approach to these problems. We say that there is something wrong with the structure of this or that industry—that integration is required, that there must be greater uniformity, and the like. Then we jump to the conclusion that the only way to deal with the matter is to nationalise it. As has been truly said, nationalisation is only a means to an end. What we have to do is to balance the benefits, or otherwise, on the experience we possess. We have to satisfy ourselves that nationalisation will be to the greater benefit of the community than if we achieved this end by some other means and thereby obtained certain advantages that we now know are, in great measure, denied to the nationalised industries.
Long words have been used rather freely and I question if hon. Members are prone to analyse them. We have heard the word "complementary" used in this Debate. We have heard that this industry is complementary to the electrical industry, and the coal industry and, therefore, it completes a trinity. All wisdom does not reside in the Labour Party at this moment Other nations have had this 415 problem. Let us look at the experience in other parts of the world. Let us turn to the Ruhr. If a greater concentration of coal, steel, iron and gas existed in one single area than existed between the towns of Hamborn and Duisburg I have yet to hear of it. The Germans are no mean industrialists, and although those industries were as much complementary in that area as they are in this country, they never decided that it was necessary to have those different industries under one control. They once tried it, and discarded the system, and I think they were wise to do so. Let us go across the North Atlantic and look at that area between the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio Rivers, of which Pittsburgh is the centre. There again is a concentration of industries of the type I have mentioned. The Americans, with their tendency to trust monopolies and large scale industry, have never decided, in their wisdom, to attempt to run the different industries in that area under one control.
Does anyone suppose that Belgium, with a Labour majority in Parliament, with her great metallurgical industries, which rely in great measure on coal from this country, will proceed to nationalise those industries because she obtains the bulk of her coal from our nationalised industry? That by no means follows. Looking back on one's own experience as an industrialist, I remember that there was always the temptation to look on various developments as being complementary to the main purpose of one's business. Sinking and boring, and the production of coalmining machinery were complementary to the mining industry. The electrical industry was complementary, as was power generated by electricity. Yet, because those various activities were complementary, it was by no means wise to say that they should be controlled under one head. There lies standardisation.
The virtues of standardisation likewise require analysis. There springs to the ordinary mind the idea of the immediate benefit of lower costs by the introduction of bulk purchase. One decides on a piece of equipment or machinery. It is produced in large numbers and one gets the immediate benefit of lower prices. But the same day that that occurs, there arises that condition of stagnation which standardisation brings in its train. There 416 is a tendency to use this piece of machinery to the exclusion of its com-petitors—