§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg to move, in page 8, line 28, to leave out from "of," to "or," in line 29, and to insert, "January, nineteen hundred and fifty-one."
The object of this Amendment is to postpone the vesting date from 1st May, 1950, to 1st January, 1951. Our reason for putting this Amendment on the Order Paper may be divided under two heads—firstly, the practical head, and secondly, the constitutional head. Looking at this Amendment I tried to work out why the Government should have chosen of all the dates of which I can think the most inconvenient, 1st May, 1950. It may be that it is because that is Labour Day and the last one which the present Government will be able to celebrate during this Parliament.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Jack Jones)
So the right hon. Gentleman hopes.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says that is what I hope. It is quite true. It is also a fact so far as the present Government are concerned. We cannot alter the Constitution quinquennially, even if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary thinks so.
Why 1st May? I wish first to address myself to the practical aspect. I think I should be right in saying that the earliest date upon which this Bill might become an Act of Parliament would be July or August. If the House of Lords reject it or amend it in a way disagreeable to the Government, the last date upon which it might become law—and that, for the purposes of my argument, is the period which it is necessary to consider—will be January or February, 1950. I do not know if that calculation is correct, but it is as accurate as I can make it.
This Iron and Steel Corporation and its hundred or so subsidiary companies have to take over on 1st May the responsibility for by far the largest business in the world. They have to take it over when it is quite clear from what has been said, not only in Committee but during the Report stage, that, whatever the Government may know, whatever system they have thought out for acquiring these securities, it is absolutely certain that they 418 have no idea, or have disclosed none, about how the business is to be run. I do not know, for example, whether the Iron and Steel Federation is to be retained by the Minister to teach him how to run the 100 companies which are to be part of the Iron and Steel Corporation. All through these Debates it has been quite clear that the day-to-day relations of the companies are to be left to be worked out in the future, and there is no coherent or cohesive plan as to how this industry and the relations between these 100 companies are to work. It is a very large business, as I have said—the largest in the world.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr Lyttelton
I am not talking about public utilities. I think it will be the largest industrial or commercial business in the world. I am quite willing to say that it is among the first three, if that is more satisfactory to hon. Members. It may be that the hon. Gentleman is thinking of the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which I think is one of the very largest, and is also a great deal more efficient than the State-owned Post Office. But that is in parenthesis.
The business of organising and taking over such an enormous business between the latest date on which this Measure can become law and the vesting date of 1st May, when these responsibilities have to be assumed, would tax the best brains in the world and would be impossible for the best commercial brains to work out in that time. I need hardly say that those considerations apply with a great deal of force to very harassed Ministers who have not, from their Ministerial experience, the particular knowledge necessary to run such a business. The point is the simple one that no one could possibly put the organisation, the system or even the book-keeping and liaison between all these companies into an efficient state of organisation between the latest date on which this Bill may become law, which may be January or February next, and 1st May.
There is a second point that a longer period than from January to May will be required to complete hiving operations which may have been delayed by companies during the earlier periods. There are a number of companies which I think 419 wish to put before the Minister proposals for hiving-off operations but which will very naturally delay doing so for as long as they can, because when or if—whichever hon. Members prefer—the Labour Government are defeated at the polls, this Bill will be repealed.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
Has the right hon. Gentleman ignored the proviso which states that there shall:on the first day of May, nineteen hundred and fifty, or such date later than the date aforesaid, but not later than the expiration of 18 months from the passing of this Act …"?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
It means that the Corporation must not necessarily take over in May if this Bill becomes law in January or February.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
It is most agreeable when hon. Members opposite follow and reinforce one's arguments so cogently. The whole force of my argument is that the vesting date should be pushed onwards. In respect of hiving-off operations that is apparently to some extent acknowledged, which merely reinforces the point that 1st May is too early a date for the vesting date.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Only if this Bill does not become an Act before February. If it becomes an Act this year, 1st May is a reasonable date.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I would not agree with that. I am not trying to prejudge the action of another place. I do not know what the action in another place will be. Their Lordships have not communicated to me their views on the subject—[Interruption.] Did I hear an hon. Member say, "I wonder"? I made a statement of fact and he has no right to question it. For the purposes of this argument, however, it is necessary to look not at the earliest date but at the latest date upon which the responsibility may be thrown upon the Government of organising the Corporation. Hon. Members opposite will surely agree that we should, in considering this timetable, take account of the worst circumstances; and the worst circumstances are that the Bill does not become an Act till January or February. All hon. Members, many of whom have 420 wide industrial experience—and I think I carry the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) with me on this—know that it is impossible to organise a business of this kind, and all its interelations, in the period of, say, between January-February and 1st May. I think I can carry hon. Members opposite as far as that. The hiving-off proposition is a subsidiary one. So I say that on all practical grounds, 1st May is much too early.
Before I go on to what I may call the constitutional aspect of the question, I should like to know why the Government attach importance to 1st May—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is Labour Day."]—beyond the purely frivolous one that it is Labour Day. If they are going to lose the General Election—as I think they will—[Interruption.]—yes, upon this particular point I will permit the hon. Member to interrupt me, because I am now expressing an opinion and not stating a fact; nobody can state facts about things which are going to happen next year. Again I can only express satisfaction that the hon. Member follows the argument; perhaps he has caught it from his hon. Friend on the bench near him. At any rate, if the General Election takes place, as it must, after 1st May, it is bound to take place within about six weeks; and I would say, quite dispassionately, that 1st May has apparently been selected because, from every point of view, it is the most inconvenient date anybody could think of.
When, as I think—and the hon. Member opposite disagrees with me—the party on these benches is returned to power, say, about June, they will find—vesting having taken place about a month before —the operation of undoing the damage may be immensely more difficult by the date on which vesting has taken place. "The evil that men do lives after them"—
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman now admitting that it would be far better if the present Government won the Election?
§ Mr. Hughes
Is the right hon. Gentleman now admitting that it will cause far less confusion if the present Government win the General Election?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member did not, unfortunately, follow the quotation. I said, "The evil that men do lives after them." If the hon. Member wishes me to complete the quotation, I will say, "The good"—and I look in vain for it at times—" is oft interred with their bones." If something silly is going to be done, as in this Bill—and the whole thing is completely silly—the dislocation and chaos is, I admit, less if the silly people are still there to carry on their silly policies. But in public affairs we have to imagine things being usually on a more satisfactory basis. I am not putting the thing in any except a hypothetical way. I am only saying that, in the first place, there is not time by 1st May for the Corporation to organise; and secondly, in the event of what I can only gather would be very distasteful to hon. Members opposite—for we shall not have the opportunity of seeing many of their faces here again in 1950—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am sorry, I missed that—[Interruption.] I shall be willing to settle that question on a financial basis outside with any hon. Member who likes to take it up. It is highly objectionable to have this transfer of securities only a month or six weeks before Parliament comes to an end under the operation of the quinquennial Act.
I am now coming to another part of the subject which may be less agreeable to hon. Members opposite. It is that, because of a lack of confidence in their electoral chances, they have chosen this particular date which, from a practical point of view, is highly undesirable. What troubles the hon. Members who, so far, have followed my arguments so closely? What is the objection, if the Labour Party are returned, to altering the vesting date? One would have thought that anybody who has the slightest confidence in the electoral chances of their party would have said, "Let us only assume the responsibility for taking on this vast business at a time when it can be properly organised. Now we have come back, iron and steel is to be nationalised, whether it is stupid or not. That is a certaintly. But let us, in the middle of a General Election "—when Ministers are moving from one portfolio to another and from one foolishness to another—"have time 422 for the Iron and Steel Corporation to bed itself down and find out what it is up to."
I should have thought that, from every point of view, that is what they would have said; but I quite realise that hon. Members opposite have no such confidence at all. I think that all they wish to do is to be able to say to their supporters, "During our inglorious life we have carried out the last of the foolish promises we made, which is that by 1st May, we would nationalise iron and steel. It has the additional advantage of causing any Government, of another political complexion which succeeds us, the utmost possible trouble and difficulty in untying the business we have just done." I do not wish to deal with this in a light manner. I seriously think that if hon. Members opposite believe in their electoral chances, it is greatly to their advantage to put the vesting date on 1st January. No harm will be done at all to their principles over nationalisation. If, on the other hand, these roseate expectations are, as so often happens in human affairs, to be cast to the ground, and if others should assume responsibility. then in the national interest it is highly desirable that the transfer and potential vesting should not have taken place before that event occurs.
§ Mr. Erroll
One of the unfortunate features about the particular date of vesting, which has been ignored in the Bill, is the high degree of uncertainty which is created. It is not only a question of the earliest date we are adopting, but the fact that vesting may take place over a period, an unknown period, of eighteen months from the passing of the Act; but not before 1st May.
In Committee the Minister suggested that he had worked out his date of 1st May, 1950, on the assumption that the Bill would go through in the normal way; and that there would then be approximately nine months before 1st May, and a further nine months after 1st May. It would give nine months in which to set up the Corporation, and a possible period of nine months afterwards for the postponement of the vesting of specific individual companies. His remarks, put in that way, would appear superficially to be entirely reasonable. But, of course, what the Minister left out of account is that even if the Bill should pass through in the normal way, and 423 receive the Royal Assent during this Summer, nine months is nothing like long enough to set up the Corporation itself. Not only have the members of the Corporation to be selected, and their individual acceptances to be received, but the Corporation has to prepare itself for the responsibilities which will fall upon it on the vesting date proper. The Corporation must prepare itself for vesting and it cannot conceivably do that by 1st May, 1950.
We must work to the earliest date specified in the Bill, namely, 1st May, 1950. We cannot theoretically assume, say, 1st August, 1950, or 1st September, 1950. One must take up all the slack possible, so to speak, and visualise the earliest possible date permitted by the Bill. Therefore, on the basis of 1st May, 1950, being the vesting date for this industry, it is obviously too soon for the Corporation to take over its manifold responsibilities.
In Committee, the Minister himself said that 1st May was put into the Bill:… because … it was generally in the interests of the industry to have a vesting date as early as possible, giving reasonable time for the Corporation to get down to their job."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee C, 26th January, 1949; c. 524.]Experience of the nationalisation of other industries has shown that so short a period as nine months is not long enough for the preparatory work. Surely, it is far better to delay for five or six months more and have a proper and smooth transfer, if transfer there must be, than to have a hasty ill-prepared transfer which will cause subsequent dislocation and great harm to the industry. In the case of the National Coal Board, it was clear that 1st January, 1947, was too soon and that it would have been better deferred to April after the winter coal cutting target period had been fixed—[An HON. MEMBER: "It was 25 years too late."]—in that case, a month or two could hardly make much difference—in order to effect a smooth transfer. Owing to the premature transfer date there has been considerable congestion in the administrative authorities in connection with electricity, which they are only now beginning to get over. Why repeat this in the case of the iron and steel industry?
424 There is a further matter, not within the purview of the Corporation, which is of great importance to those connected with the industry. I refer to the possibility of hiving-off certain activities which do not belong to the iron and steel industry proper and to which the Minister might well give his blessing. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he intends to provide facilities for the preparation of hiving-off schemes. While he was not prepared at any stage of the discussion of this Bill to give specific undertakings as to which hiving-off schemes would be accepted and which would not, he has stated on several occasions that he 'would view such schemes sympathetically and approve them where practicable. The period of a few months which remains between the passage of this Bill and 1st May, 1950, is nothing like time enough for the preparation of hiving-off schemes which necessarily must be complicated and which should be properly considered not only by the industry, not only by the Corporation in its embryo form, but by the Ministry and its own staff. Nine months is simply not time enough for such important and intricate work if it is to be done carefully, fully and conscientiously.
Again, with the date of 1st May, 1950, there is a very real dilemma for those persons in the industry who might be invited to join the Corporation. On the assumption that the General Election will take place in May or June of next year, persons invited to join the Corporation during the Autumn of this year will be placed in a dilemma. If they accept an invitation to join the Corporation, then they will have demonstrated that they are in favour of nationalisation, and they may find that as a result of the General Election they have to remain in an industry which is in private ownership. Let us consider this from both points of view. There may be, though I doubt it, a few people in the industry who wish it to be nationalised. There is certainly a very great dilemma for these individuals who receive invitations to join the Corporation when the industry is nationalised. They will be marked men. We all know what will be their fate in a nationalised industry. They will be on the record as having said "No" to a nationalised industry. What will be their chance of promotion in a nationalised industry under circumstances such as that?
§ Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the nationalised boards will treat any members of their staff as inhumanly and as inconsiderately as private enterprise have treated theirs?
§ Mr. Erroll
There are plenty of complaints already about the way in which the employees of nationalised industries are being treated. if the hon. Member is unfamiliar with those complaints, I suggest that he might go down to Betteshanger, in Kent, or to a certain colliery in Wales. He could learn a good deal from the headquarters of certain nationalised hoards, namely, the Board at Hobart House, and another at Waring and Gillow's old shop in Portland Street.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman say that his view of the present directors of iron and steel companies is such that should one of their senior employees accept a job under a nationalisation Bill which had been accepted by the House of Commons but not put into operation, those companies would indulge in a policy of victimisation?
§ Mr. Erroll
I was careful to show that that would not be the case. The danger is all the other way round. Of that we have many examples already. I will, however, gladly concede this point. One cannot hope to eradicate the fear which might exist in the mind of an individual that he would be victimised, even though in fact he would not be. One cannot eliminate that. I want to be quite fair in this matter. I do not want to make a purely political point. I want to make it plain that there is this real dilemma for senior officials and others in the industry who might have said publicly, in advance of the General Election, whether or not they would join the Corporation.
I do not think that we need make the point whether one side or the other will treat them more unfairly. The important factor is the feeling of apprehension and confusion in the minds of these senior executives who will be faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to accept an invitation to join the Corporation. What are they to do—to accept or to reject? Whose advice are they to take, or should they take no advice? These will be their thoughts at the very time when they should be 426 concentrating upon improving steel production and output.
§ Mr. Erroll
They may have very good personal reasons for not accepting. They may not wish to serve in a nationalised undertaking. They may be faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to go into an undertaking in another country instead. All sorts of personal problems would arise, and all these difficulties could be eliminated by the postponement of the vesting date by three or four months.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
If the gentleman in question has personal reasons for not accepting, then no difficulty arises. If he has personal reasons, he refuses to accept, and that is the end of the matter.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am only trying to make the point that there would be no difficulty for an individual in reaching such a decision if the vesting date were postponed until after the next Election. Then there would be no doubt about the future of the industry and whether it was to be nationalised or to remain in private hands.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that it is difficult for a man to make up his mind in May, 1950, whereas it is possible for him to make up his mind in January, 1951. I assume that it will always be Conservative policy to put the steel industry back into private hands. Therefore, presumably; this person will be faced with the same choice at every Election which comes along, whether it is in 1951 or 1955. He must always have in mind the possibility that if he takes the wrong course in May, 1950, he will be victimised later.
§ Mr. Erroll
I do not think that situation applies. We are not prepared to say what our Election policy will be in 1955.
§ Mr. Erroll
One Election at a time, please. No executive wishes to enter into a contract to join an organisation for the rest of his life before he knows that that organisation is going to come into being, and if vesting date is postponed until after the General Election, he will know that the organisation 427 is going to come into being—if indeed it is—and will be able to make his decision without difficulty and without those personal doubts and dilemmas of which he will otherwise become a victim. That is an important matter for an executive in the iron and steel industry, on whom the responsibility for high steel production rests just as much as it does on the backs of the workers in the foundries and the steel plants themselves.
By selecting the date of 1st May, 1950, the Government are showing that they cannot have very much confidence in the result of the next Election. If they had that confidence, what possible harm could there be in waiting until the date mentioned in our Amendment, when they would have a further lease of life and a further mandate for another period of four to five years during which to consolidate the industry and build up the Corporation without any of the doubts and difficulties hanging over it. It is quite obvious that, after the disastrous results to the Labour Party in the L.C.C. elections, and the prospect of the drubbing they are going to get on 12th May, they are very anxious to make sure of 1st May next year, because they wish to drive on with their stale mandate.
They have not the courage to go to the country on this issue and invite defeat; instead they prefer to try to force through a partial vesting, in order to create such a degree of chaos in the industry, by partially completed vesting operations, that it will be impossible for the Conservative Party, if returned to power, to repeal the Measure and put the industry into orderly shape. They are pursuing a "scorched earth" policy, and if they can only burn some of the outer brushwood of the industry, they will do their best to make it impossible for us to restore it to full vigour when we are returned to power.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I am sorry the hon. Member ended his speech on that note, because prior to that, I thought he was making a reasonable case, although I did not agree with his conclusions and arguments. I am afraid that I cannot add very much to what I have already said and what my colleagues have said on many occasions, particularly during the Second Reading Debate and in Committee.
428 I should have thought that the arguments for maintaining 1st May, 1950, as the date for the general transfer were exceedingly strong and would be accepted even by those who disagree with our nationalisation proposals. I should have thought that there is common agreement that, if Parliament decides that an industry of this importance is to be nationalised, the quicker the transfer takes place the better, allowing proper time, of course, for those who are going to be in charge to get to grips with the problem. It is highly desirable to cut down, as far as is practicably possible, the period of suspense, uncertainty and unsettlement between the date of the Royal Assent and the general date of transfer of these companies to the new Corporation.
We are basing, as indeed we are bound to base, our calculations on the prospect of the passage of this Bill into law by the summer of this year. All our previous nationalisation Measures have been passed into law by the end of July. We have no information from another place, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), and we must therefore assume that another place will accept the verdict of this House, as it has done with other nationalisation Measures, and pass this Bill after a similar examination to that which it gave to those Measures and in roughly the same period—in which case the Bill will become law by July of this year.
Then, the question arises how long is it necessary to leave the industry and its boards of directors and managements in suspense before the actual transfer takes place. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has said that it would be quite impossible for the members of the Corporation to reorganise the industry in nine months or to reorganise it at all. It is not suggested that the industry will be completely reorganised prior to the transfer of the industry to the Corporation. Nobody that I know has said that that reorganisation will take place.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Shepherd
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? He has spoken of the reorganisation of the industry. Will he tell us what he means by that?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think the hon. Gentleman, who was a Member of the Committee, must know that it is one of the 429 major objects of the nationalisation of this industry to render it more efficient by various Measures of rationalisation and reorganisation. That is surely accepted. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale has said that previous experience has led us to believe that nine months is an insufficient time for the Corporation to get the necessary knowledge and experience to enable them effectively to take over the industry. I think the hon. Member is wrong. He appears to forget that the duties of this Corporation are wholly unlike those of the National Coal Board. The latter has assumed responsibility for running the mines of the country, but it will not be the duty of this Corporation to run the various iron and steel works.
The organisation of these works is going to remain exactly as it is for the time being. The workers, management and boards of directors will continue in operation for the time being until such schemes of reorganisation can be decided upon. Therefore, the Corporation will not have the duty of taking over the responsibility for the running of these works from the general date of transfer. It is because of our experience with previous nationalisation Measures that we can say confidently to the House that within nine months we expect that the first-class people concerned—and they will be first-class—will be able to secure all the information and knowledge necessary for the general date of transfer without any difficulty at all.
If it is possible for them to acquire that knowledge and to be in a position to assume that responsibility within nine months after the Royal Assent, we say that it is in the interests of the industry that that transfer should take place then, and that any delay after that is contrary to the interests of the iron and steel industry and might lead to dislocation. And if it is contrary to the interests of this industry, it is also contrary to the interests of British industry generally. Therefore, on the assumpion which we must make that the Bill will be passed into law in the Summer of this year, we say that it is right and in the interests of the industry that the general date of transfer should be 1st May, 1950, at the latest.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? This is a very 430 interesting argument which he is developing. Will he tell us what in his view would be the proper interval between the date of the Royal Assent to the Bill and the vesting date? Is it nine months?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think nine months would provide ample time. Indeed, I believe it could be done, though maybe not so efficiently, in six months or so after the Royal Assent. It may be that it could be done in a shorter time, but nine months is ample.
Two arguments have been used, apart from those which I have indicated, in regard to the general date of transfer. It has been said that there are a number of cases of hiving-off or special cases, and that some companies might find it exceedingly inconvenient. There is no need for any company which has any proposal to put before me to wait until this Bill becomes law before preparing its schemes. It could have been doing so for the last six months, and will have ample time to do so before 1st May, 1950.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
Is any industrialist likely to propound a scheme for hiving-off until he knows what is going to be in the Bill, because the Bill has been considerably changed?
§ Mr. Strauss
The wise ones are already making their suggestions and preparations to meet the day when this Bill will inevitably become law. But the point I was going to make was that there is a special provision by which, with the agreement of the Corporation, a particular company which has not fully completed its arrangements can postpone its date of transfer. We are talking here about the general date of transfer, but there may be exceptions affecting some particular companies.
The point which has been generally ignored is that we have particularly taken powers under this Clause, in case of any possible eventuality, so that we may postpone the date of transfer until 18 months after the Royal Assent. I think that is the right way to proceed with this proposal. On the assumption that the normal developments will take place, we say that 1st May, 1950, is the right date. There may be industrial or political developments which would make it harmful for the iron and steel industry to be transferred on that date, in which case the Minister of Supply has power to post- 431 pone the date of general transfer until any time up to 18 months after the Royal Assent. Therefore, there is ample flexibility here, which, maybe—I am not quite sure in this instance—the Opposition support.
When in previous nationalisation Measures a specific date for transfer was put in the Bill, the Opposition always pressed the Government to take power to postpone the date and to leave it flexible because they said it might be desirable. I think that they have sometimes been right, and certainly they are right in this instance. We have done that here; we have got that flexibility, and, if necessary, we can postpone the date. But I hope and believe that, as I said at the beginning, the general interests of the industry are that the transfer should take place as soon as possible after the Royal Assent. We believe that we have taken the proper precautions in the Bill as drafted, to give that flexibility as to the date of transfer whenever it may be, and this will be in the best interest and to the great advantage of the iron and steel industry and of the future of the new Corporation.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I did not have the advantage of taking part in the Committee stage of this Bill, and therefore I was interested to hear the Minister's views as to why this transfer should take place on 1st May. What the Minister has said is, substantially, the quicker the better. We seem to have heard that expression on previous occasions, and I think that the House really deserves to have something a little more concrete than that general' proposition. I notice that, on this occasion, the Minister has not advanced the point that an early transfer would enable the enthusiasm of the workers for this Measure to be maintained, and, indeed, that the best results would therefore accrue.
On a previous occasion that point was put forward, to which we replied—and I think reasonably—that if there was some lasting benefit to be obtained from the enthusiasm of the workers for a nationalisation scheme of this sort, surely the vesting date needed to occur under the best possible circumstances, when the industry was organised in such a way that it could have the greatest chance of success, and when that enthusiasm could 432 be harnessed to something which was likely to be a satisfactory Measure. As I say, the Minister has not advanced that view on this occasion; therefore, I must assume that the reasons actuating his mind in this matter are quite clearly that in nine months we can set up this Corporation, and, since we can do that, what is the point of waiting longer?
Then we come to the consideration of what, in fact, this Corporation will require to do when it takes over on vesting date. The Minister said that, unlike the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, or other nationalisation Acts, the Iron and Steel Corporation is not going to be a functional organisation, and that, therefore, the same problems will not arise as arose on previous occasions. But surely this Corporation is there for a purpose, and if, that purpose is, as the Minister said, to bring about the reorganisation, co-ordination, and rationalisation of the industry, then they have a job which is lust as difficult, and possibly more difficult, than that of a purely functional board. I suggest to the Minister most seriously that the administrative requirements of reorganisation and co-ordination are such as can only be effected by an excessively efficient Corporation.
Are we to assume that the Government are going to be so successful in creating this Corporation that they are going to have a number of men who are automatically not only efficient, but familiar with all the problems likely to arise at that moment? Of course, that is not so. Those men will have to feel their way, and until they are themselves co-ordinated into an effective organisation they are not going to function effectively so far as the industry as a whole is concerned. To suggest that it is possible not only to recruit those men, and not only that they should attain the necessary knowledge and experience of the industry, but that they should be so co-ordinated as to function efficiently in a short time is, I think, asking too much.
If those men have not to take over the industry in the first instance, what is lost in delaying this matter for a reasonable period? If, as is said, the industry is going to continue under its own management, and if its day-to-day functioning is to be precisely as at present, then, on the face of it, there is not a great deal to be said for undue haste. If, on the other 433 hand, it can be shown by experience that undue haste brings in its train certain disadvantages, then the House would be well advised to consider what are those disadvantages. After all, we have some experience of what haste results in so far as coal nationalisation is concerned. It resulted in the wrong men being put into the wrong positions, and the industry has suffered accordingly from that day to this.
If the same thing is to happen on this occasion, the Government will have no one but themselves to blame. At least they have past experience to go by. If they are going to ask this organisation, to co-ordinate itself and get down to work before it is ready to do so, they will not be giving the industry the best chance of success which it should have. We oppose nationalisation root and branch, but at least we have said, and we continue to say, that once nationalisation is on the Statute Book, we wish it well.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Attewell
Yet the hon. and gallant Member says that if it goes on the Statute Book, hon. Members opposite will repeal it at the first opportunity.
§ Colonel Lancaster
So long as it is the law of the land we wish it well. If, as the result of a General Election, we are able to obtain another mandate from the electorate, we shall certainly dispose of this very silly Measure, but so long as it is the law of the land we wish it well and we feel that it should be given, under those circumstances, every reasonable chance of success.
Now, there is nothing that the Minister has advanced this afternoon in any detail which convinced me—and, I am sure, hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House—that he has thought this matter out in any detail. I do not want to claim to be more knowledgeable in industrial organisation than anybody else, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that these things are not ironed out as quickly as one would wish. If it were an undertaking of medium or small size, nine months would be a reasonable period, but this is an immense undertaking—as has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), possibly one of the three biggest industrial undertakings in the world. If it is to be a success, it wants every chance that it can have. To imagine that that prospect is in any way 434 enhanced by rushing what may well be the key matter to the whole prospect appears to be nothing less than absurd.
Everything else is in existence. The 107 companies are there, the managements and the men, with their experience, are there. The one thing that will affect each one of these undertakings is the subsequent action and wisdom of that Corporation. It is the one way by which the matter can turn out to he a failure or a success. Is it wise in those circumstances to rush the decision with regard to that Corporation? Is it wise to rush the selection of the individuals who will take part in at and to assume that they will gain the necessary knowledge, the necessary contacts with the industry, to enable them to function on, vesting date? Is it wise to imagine that they will form themselves into a corporate society which functions as a team within that short period?
I cannot for one moment suppose that will happen. I believe the Government are unwise to press this matter and to be insistent that, as the Minister said, the quicker they vest the better. I believe those to be unwise words, and I hope that, on further consideration, the Government will recognize that a delay of three or six months would be far more in the interests of the industry and would give them, if returned to power at the next Election, a far greater chance of success.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Some of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the opposite benches seem to have imagined a Corporation the members of which had little or no knowledge of the industry to start with and would be compelled to learn it. I would remind the House that the Corporation has to consist of:persons who have had wide experience of and shown capacity in. the production of iron ore or iron or steel, industrial, commercial or financial matters, administration or the organisation of workers.We are not dealing here with a Corporation of people who know nothing of the industry and who know nothing of the work that they will be called upon to do. The first question, and it seems to me the main question, is this: is there any real reason why the taking over by a Corporation so composed should be delayed beyond the period of nine months if the Minister, with his technical information and his knowledge of the industry—and after all the Ministry of Supply by now 435 must know something about the iron and steel industry—has come to the conclusion that that is a reasonable and sufficient period for the purpose?
§ Colonel Lancaster
Would the hon. and learned Member allow me to interrupt? Only one of the categories of individuals he has read out who form part of this Corporation of necessity have any knowledge or experience of the industry whatsoever.
§ Mr. Mitchison
My first answer to that is that it is not a question of knowing the industry; it is a question of those members of the Corporation having experience and capacity of the work they have to do, and they are to be chosen for that purpose, and the description of their experience and capacity is directed to that purpose.
I find it somewhat astonishing that a period of nine months is to be required, not for the work they have to do, but for preparing themselves for this work. I believe that if the Minister is erring at all in this matter, he is erring on the side of making the period too long rather than too short. After all, there is some precedent. There are other large corporations in this country carrying on businesses of a size comparable even to the iron and steel industry, and I have yet to hear that a longer period than nine months is required by way of probation and study before directors are appointed to some of the boards of the leading holding companies in this country.
It is suggested that the motto of the Government in this matter is "the quicker the better." Let me help right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who will no doubt be in difficulties at the next General Election, by suggesting to them that they might adopt the motto, as they appear to do today, of "the slower the better." After all, if anyone suggests that nine months is insufficient, it is up to them to show how and why it is insufficient. I cannot regard the National Coal Board, about which I claim no particular knowledge, as a parallel with the Corporation which is being set up in this industry. As I see it, this has an entirely different function, and a relation to the iron and steel companies entirely different from any relation that the National Coal Board has to any one whatever.
436 On those grounds it seems to me that those who moved and supported this Amendment and take a particular date and say that that is the right date, ought to be able to show the House, in a way which they have conspicuously failed to do up to the present, that there is what has been described by those opposite as undue haste in the period that the Minister has taken. All I can say is that that period seems to be certainly not too short at first sight, and I should be inclined to think that it was rather too long. I believe that a great deal of the confusion opposite has arisen partly from a natural Conservative frame of mind that, if you are to do anything, do it as slowly as possible, and if you are to put it off, put it off as long as possible, and partly from a real confusion between setting up a corporation and getting that corporation to do its work.
What we are considering here is not the period when the reorganisation work of the Corporation will have been completed, but the period when it is to be begun. Let us suppose that these gentlemen are appointed and at a reasonably early date. There are suggestions that an embryo corporation might do something. I cannot see what these gentlemen who already have capacity and experience in the matters on which they have to function are to do. Are they supposed to sit there for nine months considering what they are going to do at the end of it? How is their time to be passed? In silent meditation, or in merely twiddling their thumbs in some office or another? Meanwhile, the whole of this industry will be left in an uncertainty for which I see no particular reason.
Moreover, I do not feel that we on this side of the House are called upon to say that this time is too short or too long. The burden is on those who say that there is some practical reason why the delay should be longer to tell us what the practical reason is, and if they do not show us what the practical reason is, then we are entitled to assume that the reason is not a practical one but a political one. The political reason—if that is the real reason—is obvious to anybody. It is apparently the intention of this Amendment to put the vesting date beyond the latest possible date at which the next General Election can take place.
437 I see no particular reason why the efficiency of the steel industry, nationalised as it is to be, should be sacrificed to the convenience of a political party opposite in order to make it easier for them to say, "Stop it, you have time," and who do their best to create unjustified and unjustifiable panic in the country on the strength of that sort of cry. I see no reason why we should be called upon to assist political manoeuvres of that type, and to disregard for that purpose the best interests of the country itself and of the iron and steel industry. For these reasons I regard this Amendment as misconceived in practice and inspired, so far as I can see, by party considerations and no other considerations.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am very glad that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has intervened in this discussion, and, moreover, done so with more heat than he treated us to in those lengthy days in Standing Committee, when we all enjoyed his contributions. He is to be congratulated, indeed, because he has broken the rule which seems to prevail on the benches opposite, that scarcely any hon. Member opposite is allowed to speak even on this most polemical and political issue in the Bill. The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) came in in a high state of exitement, twittering at the prospect of making a political speech, only to find the iron hand of the Whip heavily against him, as it was against all hon. Gentlemne opposite in Standing Committee, so that they were not enabled to contribute to those very interesting discussions. I was looking up some facts about the Committee stage upstairs, and found that the right hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench colleagues spoke 13½ or 14 hours in the discussions, whereas hon. Members behind them—and I include the whole time that all of them spoke—spoke only two and a half hours. That was pretty harsh work. I feel sure that if any such system were to prevail on these benches our contributions would not be so effective as we like to think they are.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
I am sure the noble Lord would not like to be misreported in HANSARD. As I heard him, he said that the back benchers on this side in the Committee spoke only for two and a half hours. I would put it to him that one, at least, spoke as long as 438 that himself, and that another, to my knowledge, spoke for an hour. Therefore, I suggest that he checks up his figures, because the figure he has just given is quite ridiculous.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I did the calculation very rapidly, and I subtracted the 57 minutes of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), because he often spoke in the Conservative sense. The Minister treated us to a speech on this Clause, and he made one particular tergiversation in the course of his rather rapid remarks which, I hope, he will clear up. It was that the vesting date would be 1st May, 1950, at the latest. I hope he does not intend, when the Bill goes to another place, to make it earlier. I am glad he shakes his head.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
Probably, what I intended to say was, it should be 1st May at the latest. Plainly, it cannot be earlier than 1st May, as the Clause says 1st May at present.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
What the Clause says now is no indication of what the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind for a future occasion or in another place. I am glad to clear the point up. He said very little in Committee and has said very little now about the reorganisation of the iron and steel industry. It has been our constant complaint that inadequate time is given for that between the passage of the Bill and the vesting date because of the great difficulty of reorganisation. He was asked to say something about it in Committee. He was asked to say something about it today, but all he said at one moment was that there would be steady reorganisation, while at another moment he completely contradicted himself, and said that by and large events prevented it.
So the House and the country are still without knowledge of what the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are. We contend on this side of the House that although reorganisation may not be so drastic as it was in the case of the coal industry, it will be as severe and as full of implication as it was in the case of the gas and electricity industries, and of some of the others. That is why we are very anxious to postpone the vesting date.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the Bill might find an easy passage in another place by July. I can 439 see no sign of that at all. It is quite possible that another place will defer it, even in this Session, late into the autumn. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, its consideration could last until February, 1950, before the combination of this Measure and of the Parliament Act makes its passage imperative. That would leave only three months for the complexities to be overcome, which so many of us on this side have pointed out. We consider that amount of time to be quite inadequate.
I should like to say a little more about the position of managers and officials and directors in the industry, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) referred. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering read out the characteristics of those men. It is quite clear that they must all, if possible, be of that character, but the whole point we are making on this side of the House is that it is very unlikely that the Government will be able to get men of that character and of those characteristics.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Precisely for the reasons given on this side of the House, that there is so much uncertainty as to the future of this Bill and as to how that industry is to be organised. It was all very well in the case of the coal, electricity and gas industries. In those cases there was the prospect of some years—five years, in the case of coal—of Labour rule even after nationalisation. Some managers and technicians might have said that they still had a further five years of life.
Now, however, the situation is very different indeed, and an intolerable decision is forced upon men of high public position in the iron and steel industry to decide for themselves whether they can best serve the interests of the country by coming into the nationalisation scheme, or best serve the interests of the country by staying with their own companies at the present time, and waiting to see how this thing goes. If they leave their companies today and accept the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman, and the General Election produces a very different result from the last, they will have lost their positions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because they will 440 have been replaced in their companies by others, while those companies will remain, under Conservative legislation, more or less as they are.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Is the difficulty any greater than that which faced Robert Foot when the coalowners offered him £10,000 a year to draw up a programme for the reorganisation of the coal industry? He knew at that time, as the people who made him the offer knew, that if the Labour Party were returned to power, the mines would be nationalised.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I do not know the detailed history of Mr. Robert Foot, but I gather that he was in the coal industry and is no longer in it. The point that I am making is that they may leave a private industry at the moment when it may or may not be nationalised. They expect an appointment in the nationalised industry, but if the industry is not nationalised they are out of the thing altogether and will never return.
There is only one other thing I want to say, and that is to reinforce what the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said, namely, that the Labour Party clearly have no confidence in themselves. If they felt that they were going forward to win the next election they would be only too pleased and proud to accept an Amendment of this kind, confident that the whole operation would go through smoothly leaving sufficient time for reorganisation to take place, with the vesting date on the 1st January, 1951. But no, they are adopting a dog in the manger attitude—a "scorched earth" policy, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend—and they are saying, "We will scramble these eggs before we go, so that there is no chance that you will be able to get the industry organised properly according to your ideas." Why they should do that at the present time, I cannot make up my mind.
There does not seem to be any enthusiasm for iron and steel nationalisation anywhere in the country at the moment. I do not know of any exuberant and exhorting resolutions about to be passed at the Blackpool Conference of the party opposite, congratulating the Government on the speed and zeal with which they are proceeding to nationalize. There 441 have been no workers' demonstrations, so far as I know, in the iron and steel world. [Laughter.] The Parliamentary Secretary laughs. I went through his own factory at Irlam two years ago, and there was then not the smallest enthusiasm at the prospect of nationalisation. If I went there again today, I am sure that I should find very many more friendly faces.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I remember the occasion when I arranged for the noble Lord, in view of the fact that he knew nothing about the steel industry, to visit one of the factories, so that at least he would have the opportunity of seeing a steel works for the first time in his life. Although he may not have found enthusiasm for nationalisation, by demonstration, flag waving, loud hurrahs and all the rest of it, I hope that he did find men busy at their task, producing steel at a greater rate than ever before in the history of this country, knowing that the Government had promised the nationalisation of the industry and would implement that promise.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I know that that is the line taken by the hon. Gentleman. He has made it before in Committee. He says that that is so, and perhaps it is true of those with whom he is immediately in contact. All I can say is that many of us on this side of the House, and some hon. Members opposite who are perhaps not so intimately associated with iron and steel as the Parliamentary Secretary, would not bear that out. Finally, there are the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party itself who, even on Report stage, when big polemical points are raised, can scarcely bring themselves to rise to their feet. Hon. Members leave the Debate just at the moment when they might come here in very great numbers to take part in a demonstration of this glorious May Day when iron and steel is to be nationalised. Only the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes), the true political partisan of the Labour Party opposite, comes here, and even he is unable to get into the Debate.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
The reference by the noble Lord to the Lancashire Steel Works at Irlam, which is at present in my division seems to lead to the conclusion that although the Parliamentary Secretary courteously helped him to visit that factory, he learnt surprisingly little 442 from his visit to an iron and steel works for the first time. Earlier in his remarks, the noble Lord complained that those who served on the Steel Bill Committee did not take a great part in the discussions, and it seemed that he was extending an invitation to my colleagues on these benches to take a more extended part in the proceedings this evening, and thus rob his party of time for discussion. Accordingly, my hon. Friends will perhaps take advantage of his invitation.
I want to refer to one point only, and that was the point made in the first place by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), later by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) and lastly by the noble Lord, regarding the obtaining of personnel for service in a nationalised industry. Why is it that the Opposition imagine that a nationalised industry cannot obtain personnel of as good quality as may be obtained for private enterprise? It seems to me that we must look a bit further. The arguments advanced by hon. Gentlemen are not being strictly advanced to that aspect only; they are being advanced by way of intimidation against members of this industry going into a nationalised industry for the service of the nation.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale went on to talk about the prospect of victimisation of certain personnel in the industry if they do not volunteer for service in this nationalised undertaking. By way of illustration may I say that there is not a shred of evidence that the Government are capable of or willing to victimise those who prefer not to serve. On the contrary, there is every form of evidence to show that the party opposite has every intention of victimising those who serve in a nationalised industry. May I tell the noble Lord why I say that?
In 1947, I attended the conference of the Conservative Party at the Dome, Brighton, and spent the whole day listening to their agenda—and a very interesting agenda it was, although I must confess that I did not learn very much from it. Every resolution that was passed was acclaimed and cheered by the delegates but there was one resolution, referring to nationalised industries, moved by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and if I may paraphrase, he said that "the Conservative Party will know how to deal with those 443 traitors who take service in nationalised industries." That received the greatest acclamation of all.
How far does that refute the allegation that the Government are prepared to victimise those who take service in these industries? Is it not obvious that it is the party opposite who are trying to intimidate personnel from playing an honourable and noble part in truly national service in a nationalised industry? It is obvious that if the Tory Party had their way, they would victimise all those who have taken service in a nationalised industry under the Government. I hope, therefore, that neither the House nor the country will take any notice of these dreadful and pitiful arguments advanced by the Opposition.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
I think that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) has made some unreasonable charges which it is not reasonable to follow up. The point was made on this side of the House that there must be a great element of uncertainty in people's minds on this question of taking part in this nationalised industry if they do not know what the final fate of the industry is to be.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the difficulty which he anticipates is that the executives, who are constitutional trimmers, will find it difficult to know how to trim?
§ Mr. Maclay
That is also unworthy of following up. I had myself not thought very much along these lines, but I was impressed by this new danger which has emerged, purely on the obvious ground of uncertainty. One of the worst evils of nationalisation is this uncertainty. We get flexibility, and flexibility also produces uncertainty. The point of my remarks is the Minister's speech—
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Jenkins (Southwark, Central)
Surely this Amendment, if carried, would be bound to have the effect of extending the period of uncertainty. If the Bill remains as it is, the position must be decided by at least July, 1950, when the General Election result is known. If the Amendment is accepted, the industry will remain in a transitional state for at least another five months after that.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member has at least made the case for altering the date from 1st May to 1st July, which I agree is not in this Amendment. But that is not the real point I want to make. The Minister in the earlier part of his remarks made the case that nine months, or whatever it is—whether it is July or February—was enough time for all the preparations and reasonable arrangements to be made by the new Corporation. If that be the case, I cannot really see why he should have landed on this date of 1st May. It is a date which is bound to confuse everybody in the country, because quite clearly the General Election must come very close to that date.
I myself have been puzzled when discussing this Bill in the country, whether to say to people at meetings that the Government at least intend, according to the drafting of their Bill, to give the country another chance to express a view on the matter, or whether to say it is clear that the Government are going to keep it within their power at the last minute before the General Election to make an unholy mess of the industry; in other words, as was said earlier, to adopt the "scorched earth" policy, leaving behind them as bad a mess as they can. I think it is an unworthy way of dealing with an industry of this importance to leave that type of uncertainty; and I believe hon. Members opposite will agree that that uncertainty is there acutely at the moment.
If the Minister will not accept this Amendment, perhaps he might accept another, putting the date to at least July or August, which would be better than the present state of affairs in which we do not know, if the General Election comes very late in the life of this five-year period, whether we shall find ourselves with a hastily rushed through vesting date or with the 18 months' period from the Royal Assent still operating. That is, I think, the main charge we must make against this Clause—that it puts the vesting date on the worst possible day for not letting anybody know the Government's intentions.
There is another point on this, which I submit is extremely important. Only this morning a foreigner was talking to me about the operations of our present Government, and he said that one of the things which puzzled him was that, in 445 a nation famous throughout the world for its sense of fair play and for playing the game according to the rules, not necessarily written rules, a Government elected with a large Parliamentary majority but without a majority of the votes of the country—and on this particular Bill we know that the votes behind the Second Reading do not add up to even a majority—should, not only rule—which is quite acceptable and proper under our electoral system—but should during their period of office, carry through fundamental changes in the structure of the country.
§ Mr. Maclay
This is a fundamental alteration in the structure of this country, and the people as a whole have not apparently endorsed it, if we take a strict counting list. I am not quarrelling for one second with our electoral system; I think it is the right one, and I think it right that, even if there is this curious position that on any counting of the votes in the country there is certainly not 55 per cent. behind the Government, and on this issue less than 50 per cent., the majority party should assume office and govern. But I think it is wrong that with that kind of mandate they should take action which affects profoundly, and possibly permanently, the whole structure of the country. I am not just making this up; this was a conversation I had this morning.
§ Mr. Scollan
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that in the past under the electoral system a minority has given both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party the government of the country, and that on each occasion they were only asked to carry out the promises they made at General Elections? That is all that is being done here. We put it before the people.
§ Mr. Maclay
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that that reproof was directed to the other side of the House, because I believe the point I am making to be very relevant to this Amendment. In the past when Governments came in under this electoral system—in saying this I am keeping an eye in your direction, Mr. Speaker— 446 successive Liberal and Conservative Governments at no time passed legislation such as is here being passed by this Government, which permanently alters, or could permanently alter, the structure of the country.
I am by no means convinced that the electors who put this Government into power knew what was meant by the phrases in "Let Us Face The Future" on the nationalisation of steel. Certainly they did not understand that it meant all the subsidiary companies, and all their articles of association powers. If the Government have now shaped their policy and intend to go ahead with this type of nationalisation, which goes far further than any of the electors in the country could possibly have realised at the last General Election, there is an absolute obligation on them to make certain that this can go before the country again for a straight decision.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am very sorry to know that the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) has moved very much to the Right of his more Right-wing colleagues, because I did look upon him in the Standing Committee as one of the more progressive members of his party. Today he is out-conservatising the Conservatives. He says that the people have not approved this Measure since 1945. I think they approved it at Brigg, at South Hammersmith, at North St. Pancras, and at other by-elections recently.
§ Mr. Maclay
I cannot accept that argument as valid, for the reason that all the by-elections have shown a progressive decline in the Labour vote. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes, they have. By re-electing Labour Members all the people have done is possibly to endorse the continuing role of the Government. But on a purely theoretical issue of constitutional fair play—even if we have not got a written Constitution—that is no mandate for altering the whole structure of the country.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
In any case, the hon. Gentleman is advancing a completely 447 new constitutional doctrine that the Labour Party must not, in its last but one year of office, introduce any Measure which is to be passed and put on the Statute Book. His argument is that because it becomes an Act of Parliament a few weeks before the General Election, it is wrong to do this.
§ Mr. Maclay
That was not my point. My point was, quite clearly, that the mandate runs as long as the Parliament lasts, unless there is a change of opinion in the country. My main point was that where there is not a clear majority expressed so that there is no shadow of doubt that the nation as a whole is behind a structural alteration, there is then a very important constitutional issue.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
This party was put in power to place the economic resources of the country at the service of the nation, and that is precisely what this Bill sets out to do. We see no reason why we should prolong the uncertainty beyond 1st May, 1950.
Let me come to the other two points. The first was made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), who feared that the people in the industry who would be asked to serve on the Board would be afraid to demonstrate their belief in nationalisation, through fear of victimisation and that they would therefore be placed in a very invidious position unless the vesting date is postponed. Let us have a proper sense of proportion on this. The most we want is ten people and a chairman, and the least we want is six. I could go out of here tonight and find six people willing to serve upon this Corporation.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Mr. Speaker, you would certainly be qualified as one experienced in the handling of men, but as a Member of this House you would be disqualified. Obviously I would, too. If 448 these people are afraid because of possible victimisation should a Tory Government be returned tomorrow, they are not the kind we want on these bodies. We want strong people of independent views who know their job. That is the sole qualification for appointing them.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
The Opposition have stated that we will not accept their Amendment because we are afraid we are going to lose the next Election, and that it shows a lack of confidence in our electoral chances. Surely it is just the very opposite. It is because we are convinced that we will win the next Election that we see no reason why a later date than 1st May should be chosen. It is precisely because the Tories have no confidence that they will win the next Election that they are trying to delay the Bill as long as they can. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was quite right when he said that the party opposite want to delay the date not to improve the Bill or improve steel nationalisation, but because they do not want steel to be nationalised. They ought to be honest about it.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
We see no reason why we should not proceed with the programme as laid down, and if this Bill becomes an Act and another place acts in a normal way, there will be plenty of time to have the scheme organised by 1st May. If for some reason this Bill does not become an Act until next February or March, then the Minister still has power to delay the vesting date for 18 months, which again gives us ample time to get the scheme into proper order. The other point made by the Opposition is that this issue should be re-submitted to the electors. It will be, for it will be one of the main issues at the next Election. It is because we are not afraid of fighting on that issue again that we see no reason why we should delay the date, and I hope my right hon. Friend will stick to it and, if possible, ensure that 1st May is the date on which the scheme comes into operation.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings
Mr. Speaker, in catching your eye this time, I must sincerely 449 apologise for the other "I" in my question a little earlier. I feel that this is a very important matter and ought to be reconsidered. The Minister said quite glibly that nine months ought to be ample time to allow the members of this Corporation to know all they ought to know in order to carry out their functions. A statement like that from the Minister proves that he does not understand the gravity and seriousness of the job which these people have to undertake. They are going to decide policy with regard to this industry, and I should have thought that nine months would have been a good deal too short to allow them to get into their stride and to know as much as they should know if they are to carry out their job properly.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) wanted the date to be earlier. He does not appreciate the calibre and the character of the people who are going to be chosen to be members of this Corporation. If we are to take as an example some of the appointments made in the nationalised industries—and I say this quite boldly—they are further arguments for a longer period than nine months. As I am sure hon. Members on the other side of the House will agree, they have not turned out as well as was hoped. Some have been very bad appointments indeed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name some."] The Bank of England is one example. I do not need to go any further, and I do not want to get into personalities, but speaking in a general way, the Government have made some blunders in some of their appointments. All have not been first-class appointments; some have failed.
Ministers have stated that it is not a trouble with the Socialist Government that they are going too slowly; if they have been at fault, it is that they have endeavoured to go far too quickly and to do too much in a short time. In this case the Minister is rushing things far too quickly. He has got the idea that nine months ought to be long enough for the right men. I might have agreed with him if I had known the type of men it is proposed to appoint. I know there are certain conditions attached to the appointment, such as to be conversant with the production of steel, but I would require to know the type and history of the men who are to be appointed to this Corporation before I make my judgment. 450 I defy any Member of this House to decide, without knowing who these people are and what is their experience, whether nine months is a sufficient period or not.
We come now to the question of the industry remaining intact. The Governmen will get a bit of a shock in that respect, because there are a number of people who have sufficient courage and strength of mind to be able to say, "I am not going to have anything to do with the nationalised steel industry. I think the economic destruction of this country will come far quicker by nationalising the industry than if we leave it as it is." Even in the coal industry today there are many people in big executive posts who are there because they would be out of work if they had not taken a job under nationalisation. They are not there because they are in favour of nationalisation, but because their livelihood necessitates it. They have no alternative. The same thing is going to happen in the nationalised steel industry.
The Minister talks about the industry remaining intact and that there will be no interference at all. I feel that the Government will get a great shock when this industry is taken over. There will be many men of courage who will have nothing to do with it, on the ground that they feel that an economic blunder is being made and they would far rather be out of the industry than hasten our economic destruction. If hon. Members opposite deny that point of view, I suggest to them that they talk to executive heads. In some of these nationalised industries they are not enthusiastic, and the same applies to the steel industry. The Parliamentary Secretary says that enthusiasm for nationalisation is amongst the workers. The only enthusiasm I can find in Sheffield is that fanned by Socialist propaganda. The men, in my opinion, are quite lukewarm, and there is not any enthusiasm. The Government are not going to get the industry left intact. Anyone who suggests that they will, is out of touch with many people who work in the steel industry today.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering asked whether we could put a single practical reason for asking for this delay. I should like to give him one sound reason for the longest possible time being allowed. It is in order that mem- 451 bers of this Corporation should make themselves conversant with the job they have to do so that they can carry it out efficiently. That, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter.
§ Mr. Mitchison rose—
§ Mr. Jennings
I will give way in a moment. The hon. and learned Member likes to get up to interrupt me, just as he did in Standing Committee, and I will give way to him in a moment. A practical reason why delay should take place is in order to give a longer time than nine months for these people to see exactly what is required of them.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I thank the hon. Member for his courtesy in giving way, and for doing so in such generous terms. I want to ask him, if nine months is a sufficient time, why, except for a political reason, he wants to have the longest possible time?
§ Mr. Jennings
I reply that anybody who puts forward the suggestion that nine months is a sufficient time cannot have ally idea of the complexity of the job that has to be undertaken. A nine months' period is frightfully short to expect people to make themselves au fait, even though they are people of the highest calibre in the industry. They have to make themselves a team, and nine months will go very quickly indeed. The period should be longer than that. I will come to the point made by the hon. and learned Member with regard to politics.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am perturbed about a statement that he has just made that he has knowledge, from his personal contact with directors and managements in Sheffield—
§ Mr. Jennings
The Parliamentary Secretary is doing me a very great injustice in saying that I made such a statement. The word "Sheffield" has never passed my lips. I referred to 452 executives in the coal industry, and I said that I thought we should find the same thing existing in the steel industry today. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will withdraw that statement.
§ Mr. Jones
I withdraw it. I am perfectly satisfied with the explanation given by the hon. Member. It appears now that it was directors connected with the coal industry to which he was referring. I am satisfied that the directors to which he was referring are not directors inside the steel industry.
§ Mr. Jennings
The Parliamentary Secretary says that he is satisfied that I was not referring to directors in the steel industry. If he wants to wangle out of withdrawing a statement that he ascribed to me, by an explanation of that sort, I think it is most unsporting. He ought to withdraw the statement.
§ Mr. Jennings
I gave way because I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was going to withdraw his statement.
§ Mr. Jennings
I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was going to dome the honour of withdrawing. However, I will leave hon. Members to appreciate what was said and what the Parliamentary Secretary has endeavoured to flourish off in a half-hearted way in regard to what he thought I said.
I would finally say that we are taking a very grave step in nationalising the iron and steel industry. If the Government did the right and proper thing and gave the matter statesmanlike consideration there is no question which way they would move in regard to the date—that is, they would let the people decide. They would let the people of the country have a free and open vote before they so upset this industry that they destroy it. It will be extremely difficult to put the industry on its feet again. If the Government do not act as I suggest and do not stand up to that challenge, all I can say is that they are frightened of the whole situation.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
So far as it has gone, the discussion has revealed 453 the important link which must exist between the vesting date that we are now discussing and the date of the Royal Assent being given to the Bill. I want to take up some remarks made by the Minister earlier in the Debate. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not with us at the moment. I appreciate that he has gone to have something to eat. I shall therefore address my remarks to the Parliamentary Secretary who, I think, will realise that there is a point here of relevance and importance.
The most helpful part of the Minister's speech was when he revealed what he envisages as the timetable. He expects the Bill to be on the Statute Book by the end of July. May I put to him, with respect, and through the Parliamentary Secretary, some of the reasons why I think that calculation to be entirely out of all proportion to the probabilities? The Bill is likely to leave our House, I imagine, by the middle of May. The Report stage will be concluded next week. The Third Reading will follow. That will mean that the Bill will have taken six months in the House of Commons, despite a rigid Guillotine procedure. There are rumours, and the Minister may be able to confirm them or not, that for some reason we are to have a doubling of the Whitsuntide Recess, when the House is going up, not for a week but for a fortnight. If that is so, one wonders why the Guillotine was put on for the Report stage.
Be that as it may, it is unlikely that their Lordships will be able to read the Bill a Second time very much before Whitsuntide. In another place there is no Guillotine. We are sending them a Bill largely undiscussed, either in Committee or upon Report. That fact places upon their Lordships, who are fully conscious of their responsibilities—
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
When the hon. Member joins them, I am sure that there will be no more conscientious Peer than he. There will be placed upon another place, with or without the assistance of the hon. Member for Stoke, the necessity for a conscientious and meticulous examination of all these Clauses which we are sending them without Debate. That being the case, and no Guillotine being imposed in another 454 place, how can anyone envisage the Bill passing through all its stages in another place in two months? There will be a lengthy Committee stage without restriction of Debate, a lengthy Report stage and a Third Reading Debate.
The Parliamentary Secretary is well aware that that is not the end of the matter by a very long way. It is unlikely that the Bill will return to this House unamended by their Lordships, who may wish to take a stand upon certain matters. The Clause we are now discussing may be one of them. Whether the vesting date should be postponed beyond the next appeal to the country or not is the sort of point on which their Lordships may well decide to make an Amendment. It is not a great exaggeration to envisage that when the Bill emerges from another place there will he something like a shuttle service operating between the two Houses respecting a number of these matters.
His Majesty's Government dislike their Lordships meeting when the House of Commons is up. Very strong exception was taken to it by the Leader of the House in the summer of 1947. The activities of their Lordships will be restricted by the holiday we give ourselves. Again, my ornithological informant tells me that we are rising on 29th July until 25th October. That is the information which has reached me. My ornithological informant may or may not be right, but at least I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will now see unfolding before him the likelihood not of this Bill emerging from their Lordships' House in time to receive the Royal Assent at the end of July but that His Majesty's Government will be extremely fortunate if it emerges from their Lordships' House for the Lords Amendments to be discussed here before the Christmas Recess.
That being so, I am sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is now beginning to realise the wisdom of our Amendment. It will put back the vesting date to 1st January, 1951, which will give a timetable not dissimilar to that which operated in the coal and Transport nationalisation Measures. It is a tidy, reasonable proposal. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) rested himself in considerable comfort on the possibility that, after all, this might not happen on 1st May, 1950. At one point the hon. 455 Member seemed almost on the verge of telling us that it would not happen at all; at least he pointed out that there might be a postponement.
I do not intend to get involved in a discussion about the General Election. It would have been a great help to us if the Leader of the House had remained and informed us when His Majesty will be requested to dissolve the present Parliament. However, the Leader of the House, who is an expert on timetables, has left us after one of those fleeting visits which he very occasionally pays to the House of Commons.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
The hon. Member says that the Leader of the House is our governor. He is certainly our dictator, our Fuhrer, but he is unlikely to be the governor of the hon. Gentleman after the General Election. I was hoping to avoid such controversial remarks. I was merely going to point out that the Mandate of 1945 is distinctly moth-eaten in 1949 and that there is nothing in the document "Let us Face the Future" to indicate the sweeping proposals the Bill puts before the country. There was an innocuous phrase about iron and steel which was swallowed up in the multiplicity of verbiage of which that document consisted. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees told us that the General Election would be fought on that issue. What has happened about that pleasant party at Shanklin at which the Minister of Food failed to recognise the size of the bacon ration? I thought a new manifesto was now being gestated. I thought that the General Election would not be fought on this issue but on the new programme of greed and grab in relation to cement, sugar, insurance and the like.
Would it not be better on grounds of parliamentary convenience—my prophecy of the progress of the Bill was not unreasonable—to accept the Amendment and thus not disappoint the thousands of steel workers who, we are told, are so anxious for nationalisation to come into force at the earliest moment? What a grievous disappointment it will be if when 1st May arrives the Bill has not 456 really emerged from parliamentary consideration. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that we are anxious to delay this Measure. The delay has come from His Majesty's Government. If there was urgency for the nationalisation of iron and steel, why have the Government waited until 1949? We all know why. They have waited because of the controversies and differences within the Cabinet itself. The Minister of Health has demanded the head of Sheffield on a charger. That is why the Measure has been delayed so long. After so lugubrious a record, had not the Government better let the people pronounce before they go forward?
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has raised some interesting points but I propose to revert to the, speech of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings). His speech followed a pattern familiar to those who listened to him in Standing Committee, but I was rather surprised when at one time in his speech he said that the name of Sheffield had never passed his lips; that was certainly not our recollection of the way he spoke in Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Jennings
I was referring to my speech today. I plead guilty to having mentioned Sheffield in Standing Committee on many occasions.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I accept that the hon. Member was referring only to what he said today, although I think he phrased his remark in such a way that it appeared to have a very much wider connotation, which seemed a rather surprising statement about his general method of speaking. His speech followed a familiar pattern because he first made nonsense of the argument of a number of his hon. Friends who had spoken before him and then to some extent made nonsense of the Amendment for which he was speaking. The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) said it was important that the vesting date should be postponed so that high executives in the industry who might be in a state of doubt before the result of the General Election was known would be more able to come in and play their part in the nationalised industry. However, the hon. Member for Hallam told us that there was a growing 457 feeling among high executives in the industry that they would have nothing at all to do with the nationalised iron and steel industry in any circumstances. There went the argument of the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale.
The hon. Member for Hallam also told us that no one who had any real knowledge of the iron and steel industry would propose that the interval between the date on which the Bill becomes an Act and vesting date should be as short as nine months. He said that in reply to an intervention by my hon. and learned Frend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). What does the Opposition's Amendment guarantee? Does it guarantee a period much greater than nine months between the date of which the Bill will become an Act and vesting date? I do not believe it does. Although we should be prepared for a situation in which the Bill would go through another place quite smoothly and it would be possible to have a vesting date a reasonable time after that, we should also be prepared to face a situation—surely not outside the realms of possibility—in which another place would hold up the Bill as long as possible. If that is the case the Bill will probably become an Act, after the Parliament Bill goes through, some time towards the end of February, 1950. Therefore, all the Amendment ensures is that instead of the period of nine months which we regard as reasonable, there shall be a period of 10 months before the vesting date comes into operation.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Will the hon. Member forgive me for interrupting? I think he inadvertently misrepresented the matter. It is not a difference between nine months and a year but a difference between the possibility of three months and a year.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we are entitled to look at what is the least period which the Opposition Amendment guarantees between the Bill becoming an Act and the vesting date, and I say that that period is 10 months. I think the Minister has made it fairly clear that if the other place holds up this Bill for a considerable time so that it does not receive the Royal Assent until some time in the beginning of 1950, then he has very little intention 458 of rushing the vesting date through in the matter of a month or two months after that.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
That is an important point. Is the interpretation which the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Jenkins) has placed on the Minister's statement officially supported by the Government?
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
If I may intervene, I would say that I made my position quite clear and I expressed the Government's view. I do not propose to embellish it in any way.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Of course, I cannot add anything of any use to the House in interpreting my right hon. Friend's speech, but the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) can read the speech, as I can read it, tomorrow and see exactly what was said. I think we are entitled to look at what period the Opposition Amendment guarantees, and it is a period of no longer than 10 months between the Bill becoming an Act and the vesting date. We have had this long discussion, therefore, and we are asked to believe that the difference between wild, foolish men, who want to destroy the industry and sensible, prudent men who want to take a reasonable period about carrying the Act into practice is no more than one month. That is the difference with which we are dealing and it seems to me a very small difference indeed.
If we move away from this point about the period not being sufficiently long to set up the Corporation and to get it into working order, we are left with the constitutional niceties of the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), who objected to the present provisions on entirely different grounds. I want to say very little about this last point, but, of course, if his arguments are carried to their logical conclusion, they mean that no Parliament would be able to do any work of legislation in its last Session, because clearly no Government can have a greater right to legislate in its last Session than this Government; no Government can claim with a greater degree of confidence that it has retained the confidence of the country. There has certainly been no other Government, at least since 1832, which has the by-election record of this Government.
459 Therefore, if this Government cannot legislate in its fifth Session, no Government can legislate in its fifth Session, and if that is the position, it would be better to have a four-year Parliament instead of a five-year Parliament with a wasted year at the end of it. I submit therefore that on the first ground of the time needed to set up the Corporation,' we are arguing only about one month, and in view of what I have said about the second ground, the constitutional point, I submit that the Opposition are on very weak grounds indeed.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I should not have intervened had it not been for the quite unwarranted attack of the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Jenkins) on my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings). I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend, and let me assure the hon. Member for. Central Southwark that there was no nonsense about it at all. It was a good, practical Yorkshire speech and if the hon. Member for Central Southwark reads it in HANSARD he will see that on at least two occasions he has misquoted my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I did not say that the speech of the hon. Member for Hallam was nonsense; that would have been a most discourteous thing to say. What I said was that his speech made nonsense of certain arguments put forward previously from that side of the House.
§ Mr. Roberts
As far as I understood it, the hon. Member for Central Southwark said that my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam had made nonsense of two arguments, both of which he misquoted. If the hon. Member for Central Southwark will read that speech he will see that he has misquoted my hon. Friend on two occasions.
The only other point which I wish to make is this: I am going into the Lobby this evening on this Amendment for one reason only, and that is that if this Amendment were passed, the whole of this Bill would be negatived, because we feel quite confidently in the country that by 1951, hon. Members opposite will not have the majority which they have today. They will be swept away, probably on the very arguments around this Steel Nationalisation Bill. Therefore, if we 460 were to pass this Amendment tonight—and I very much doubt whether we shall —I am confident that this iniquitous Bill would not become the law of this country. It is in order to make that protest that I shall go through the Lobby tonight.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
There is one aspect of this Amendment and this Clause to which I want to refer. In a series of rather irascible remarks the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that the obligation lay upon our shoulders to show some valid and functional reason why this period of time, about which we complain, would be too short. It seems to me that that can be shown in connection with what are picturesquely termed "the hiving off operations." Here we have some hundred companies in the Third Schedule—a tragic hundred, just as tragic as the more famous 600 who went "in the jaws of death" not very long ago. I think we may assume that each of these concerns is opposed to being nationalised, and that if it could see a chance at any rate of extracting that part of its activities to which it was not intended originally that nationalisation should apply, then it would take that chance. The Minister said yesterday that nobody had ever suggested that there should be a lesser field of nationalisation, but his predecessor told a very different story in 1946.
Be that as it may, we can assume that each of this tragic band of 100 would like to be able to save such of its assets as are clearly not in the Second Schedule, and provision is made for their being able so to do by what is known as the hiving off operation. In the Debate in the Committee the Parliamentary Secretary agreed with what I am about to say when he used these words about this operation:It is one of considerable magnitude.Later on, he used these words:In any case the operations of hiving off will require careful consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 26th January. 1949; c. 516.]We have had a lot of discussion this evening as to how long will he available, and it depends on a number of unknown factors. But it is clear that between the Bill becoming an Act and receiving the Royal Assent, on the one hand, and the 461 vesting date as fixed in the Bill, on the other hand, the period of time might be pretty short.
What will happen, therefore, in the case of those individual companies who want to carry out hiving off operations? The right hon. Gentleman told me earlier in today's Debate that some of them had already been in contact with him with hiving off plans. I submit to the House that it is an unwise thing to produce hiving off plans until one knows what the terms of the Bill finally will be, and that can only be known when the Bill has passed through another place and come back to this House. It is only from that time, therefore, that a really coherent and viable hiving off plan can be put forward.
What is the concern going to do? Let us imagine we are in charge of a concern of that kind. To use the famous words, they have to form "viable units" out of the primary processes and the subsequent processes. At present they have one viable unit. They may well have to provide two sets of staff, they may well have to provide new plant, in order to be able to make the lesser or the greater part function on its own. Therefore, they have to study all these problems to satisfy themselves that they can get the necessary plant and the necessary staff. They have to see the right hon. Gentleman and say to him, "Is this a plan which will meet with your approval?"
The right hon. Gentleman may or he may not say, "Yes," If he says, "Yes," that will be all right; but if new plant is required—I am taking their existing plant under the main part of the concern which will pass under nationalisation—he leaves that concern in the position of having what will be a viable unit when he has supplied the staff and the necessary plant to make it into one. Almost every hon. Member of this House knows that at present it is the most difficult thing in the world to get machinery and plant. Therefore, what the Minister virtually is doing is saying to that concern, "All right. You can hive off, but for a period of, perhaps, a year or two years you will have to go on paying your staff; you will have to keep that part of your unit which you are going to keep until you can get the necessary plant to get the whole thing going again." A very unfair situation, therefore, may be created.
462 The right hon. Gentleman may say, "Oh, yes, but that is looked after because I take power in exceptional cases to extend the date after which this will happen." That, surely, is just all our case. If this case is one which will occur fairly often, then the necessity or desirability of extending the period, as our Amendment seeks to do, is made all the stronger. I contend that these cases which are being examined by concerns who want to hive off and split are not the exception but the rule, and that the exception will be the concern that can come to the Minister here and now, or within a period which the Bill will allow, and say, "Here is a concrete, ready-made plan to hive off, which the Minister will be able to accept in that form. "The Bill is causing great disturbance to the industry. Surely, no hon. Gentleman opposite is so bound and ridden by dogma as to want to cause unnecessary disturbance. I have tried to show that, apart from all the other considerations to which we have been giving voice this afternoon, there is a very complicated problem in this hiving off which cannot possibly be satisfied satisfactorily in the time which is allowed unless our Amendment is accepted.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
I want to take up one or two things which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said. The hon. and learned Gentleman, alas, is not in his place, but during one of his frequent interruptions this afternoon he issued what I thought was a very clever challenge to this side, in saying that this was a purely political move on our part. Of course it is, because the Bill is a purely political move of the most disastrous sort. We sat in Committee for 36 days and we have seen throughout that there is no plan in the Minister's mind. There is no plan whatsoever except the plan which already exists—the plan put forward by the industry; and in no way is there any possibility of this Bill improving the state of the steel industry for many years to come, if at all. That is the first point. We on this side have seen that this is a purely political Measure.
The second point is that our political motive in moving the Amendment is this: we believe that when the 1945 Election was fought, this Bill was so dimly adum- 463 brated in the political programme of the party opposite that the country needs to review now the whole matter, so that what is meant by this nationalisation Bill is made clear to all. What was meant in 1945 was far from clear. We now see the whole gamut and range of goods which the definition "the relevant portions of the steel industry" embraces.
Thirdly, we on this side seriously believe, from the history of this Bill, that a considerably longer period of time is needed. Let us look back on what has happened. The Minister talked about nine months or ten months being necessary. It almost reminds one of the scene not so long ago with the Ministry of Food when they did not know whether the time for gestation of a cow was nine or 11 months. Certainly, from our experience so far, the period of gestation for a Socialist Bill is about half a century. I should like to refer hon. Members opposite to the remarks of the late Minister of Fuel and Power, now Minister for War, who said:We have talked about these matters of nationalisation for a great many years but have never thought out in any detail what their full implications were.That has become clearer and clearer as we have got on with the Bill.
In 1945 we had this pretty little picture of nationalising the relevant sections of the iron and steel industry. In 1946 we had a Debate where the Government were so hardly beaten that even the "Tribune" had to come forward and suggest that the Government should cut their economic cackle and talk straighter Socialism. Then we came to 1947, when there was an economic crisis and, because of the foreign exchange position, the Bill was withdrawn. Incidentally, at that time, the Minister of Supply, who made such a hash of his first adumbrations, was fired. Then we came to 1948. A Bill was brought forward, such a weak and wretched Bill, as the Minister himself admitted; it was put up, had to be sent upstairs and came down completely revised by hon. Members on this side. The first two Clauses had been entirely altered and improved, and so forth and so on throughout the Bill. This Bill will now go to the House of Lords. It has already been—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. Gentleman must confine himself more closely to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Bill will now, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has said, eventually go to another place. There, doubtless, as it has been so little discussed in this House, further excellent Amendments will be added to it and it will be greatly improved. Then we get down to the fact, which has been pointed out from this side, that the Bill may return here at about Christmas of this year. That will mean that then there will be a period not, as the Minister has pointed out, of nine, 10 or 12 months, but a period of three months.
We on this side seriously suggest that it is impossible for the Minister to get in three months the proper sort of organisation set on foot, for we have seen completely how unable he has been in his deliberations behind closed doors to produce a Bill which in any way is effective. So far as the Minister is concerned, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and other people have pointed to him and said, "Here is a man who knows so much about steel now because he has been in charge of the Ministry of Supply for so long." On a subject about which he should know a great deal, as the descendant of a long and distinguished line of metal merchants, I can only say that the present situation of the nonferrous metal prices in this country is absolutely disastrous. As he has made such a mess of that, what kind of mess can we expect him to make in the future? [Interruption.] This has a great deal to do with the Amendment.
The whole problem is for the Minister to select those persons who will be of use to him and will set up this Corporation and see what its functions are to be, and to get those people who should serve to serve. There is no question whatsoever that until this matter has been decided by the next General Election, by the people of this country, those people who should serve will, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) has pointed out, be indecisive and unprepared as to whether they are to come in or not. The Minister has talked of the necessity of a definite date. In our Amendment we offer to the industry a definite and positive date, with 465 time for further thought by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
The Amendment, which has been the subject of a most interesting Debate in which Members of all sides of the House have freely joined, deals with perhaps one of the most important questions arising out of the Bill. After all, in a Bill of this kind its content and character are the most important questions of all. The second big question is when it is to come into effect. I can conceive, therefore, no matter which is more likely to cause interest, both inside and outside this House, for the date of its becoming effective is a very vital question to all concerned.
I do not propose to repeat at any length the arguments which have been used as to the possible variety of dates, but it is to be observed that as the Bill is drawn, there is a tremendous range of possible dates within which it can become effective. It goes from May, 1950, to somewhere like 1951. It is obviously a very bad thing that there should be this degree of uncertainty as to when the Bill is likely to become effective. The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Jenkins) argued that our Amendment made a difference of only one month. Of course, he has the advantage over me that his education at Balliol was in a generation much later than mine and under different auspices, but even with the most progressive thought at Balliol today, I would not have thought one could prove that one year is the same as one month.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The point I tried to make was that the Opposition Amendment only guaranteed that the period between the Bill becoming an Act and vesting day would be ten months. I said that it might be as short as that—not that it would be.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The hon. Member has taken the circumstances most favourable to the Government. We have to regard all the variety of circumstances, including the delay and the upset between now and the Royal Assent, and all the circumstances which might be unfavourable to the Government. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) developed this point with great skill and, I think, made a considerable impression upon the House. Apart from the argu- 466 ment against uncertainty in a matter so important as this, there is the argument against haste and against too little time between the Royal Assent and the vesting date.
Here I want to ask the Minister to explain a little more carefully his own statement and the gloss put upon it by the hon. Member for Central Southwark, who is not without some of the connections with high Ministerial positions which normally accompany the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary. He interpreted the right hon. Gentleman's speech in a way which was rather important. He said that in the event of Parliamentary delays taking place, the Minister would put forward the vesting date so as to allow at least a period of nine months between the passing of the Bill and the vesting date. If that were a pledge from the Government it would make a considerable difference; it would, in fact, be the acceptance of our Amendment. Therefore, I feel that the gloss will not be so acceptable, however learned the scholiast.
As to the lack of a proper period between the Royal Assent and the vesting date, the argument which was developed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) proved conclusively the impossibility of anybody making these hiving-off schemes, as they are called, without the complete knowledge of what are the final provisions of the Bill when it receives the Royal Assent. To attempt to do so before that is known would be useless and a waste of time, and therefore it is not a fair argument to say that all that can be undertaken at the present time with any degree of certainty.
What are the possible considerations other than the technical considerations of uncertainty? The right hon. Gentleman told us that this was not so difficult a Corporation, that it would not be so difficult to appoint the members because this Corporation was quite different from the Coal Board. He said, "It will have nothing to do; at any rate, it is completely changed in character. It is not actually charged with the amendment of anything. It is really a trustee or holding company which will hold the shares which will be transferred to it." I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is true that some few days ago the whole character of this Corporation 467 was completely changed by the Amendments which were made, and in Committee upstairs he never succeeded in making up his mind what kind of Corporation it was to be. We argued whether it was to be functional or nonfunctional, full-time, half-time, and all the rest of it. No degree of certainty has yet been reached because there may be amendments in the character of the Corporation as a result of further discussion.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), with a certain disingenuousness, which is his major charm, put his finger on the spot. He said that the real reason we are all arguing about the date is a political reason. There is a certain truth in that. Hon. Members opposite are absolutely determined so to use the last hours of their crumbling power with complete disregard—[An HON. MEMBER: "You cannot win a by-election."] You can only win London by a swindle—a real Lord President of the Council swindle, a swindle worthy of the third-rate political boss, as one member of the Cabinet calls another nowadays.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask whether the accusation that a Member can only win a certain constituency by a swindle is a Parliamentary term permissible in Debate?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I could not hear exactly what the right hon. Gentleman was saying because there was so much noise. I think he had better proceed with his speech.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The hon. Member and I are old friends, and I should certainly not impute any specific accusation against him. This was a generalised accusation against the management of a particular territory in London.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that there are, as there must be, political as well as the technical considerations which I have advanced—political considerations which are in the minds of the whole House. What are the possible alternatives to the things that may happen? The vesting date, if it remains at May, 1950, may be after a General Election. I believe the Government must hold the Election by July, 468 1950. They may decide to hold it in the Autumn of this year. They may decide to have it in the Spring of next year. although I am bound to say that I should not have thought from the faces of hon. Members opposite the other day that they would be likely to have an Election without another Budget. But then Budgets can be arranged to suit the convenience of politics.
It may be just after an Election, although just after an Election is not really a convenient time because Ministers are anxiously awaiting the new setup which generally follows that great disturbance. That is not really a very good time to deal with so huge an undertaking as this. Of course, it may take place actually during the Election. The Election may be in May of next year. Ministers do their work under the most difficult circumstances, but it does not seem to me that during an Election is a very good time for the vesting date and the change-over of what is probably the most important industry in the country.
Of course, the other possible plan, and I think it is the plan which it would not be altogether ungenerous to suggest Ministers might be working, is that it should take place just five or six weeks before the General Election. How convenient it would then be in view of the whole history of this Bill. This vital Bill has been postponed from year to year and could easily have been taken earlier in the Parliament. Everyone knows that it was brought in only after great divisions in the Cabinet. Everyone knows that the master pusher-around had to push out the Minister of Supply and find a Minister to accept a Bill of this kind. Everyone knows that there was a battle backwards and forwards as to whether the whole steel industry or only some parts of it should be taken over, and that an attempt was made at a compromise, and that compromise is why this Bill is absolutely unworkable. The Bill cannot be worked in the form in which it was presented, and so this wonderful plan was made by the Lord President of the Council.
By that plan he can say, "You can all cheer, because we shall be able to say that we have carried out our mandate, and then, if we get in, everything will be all right." To the others, to the moderate people, that great centre part of the country which the right hon. Gentleman 469 is so anxiously wooing, he can say, "It is all right, because the country will be able to decide"—if he wins it is hardly worth bothering about the Bill at all, because he can just sell it to the Prudential. And so he has it both ways. To the extremist he can say that it has been a terrible rush; it has been necessary to work away for year after year only just to be able to fit it in. He can say to them, "We have got it in just within six weeks." What a lucky stroke, for to the others it is a free choice to the country and until the country decides, no final settlement can be made.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Is this rather ingenious analysis of political strategy in Order?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I will not delay the House any longer. I will put the hon. Member out of his pain. No doubt he is very worried and concerned, and he will, of course, have a great deal to explain. The only justification for all this is based upon the doctrine of the mandate. Can it seriously be argued that at the last Election there was a great and earnest desire for this Bill, and that it is the reason why many of the young men in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force voted for Members opposite?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I will end by saying it is the doctrine of the mandate which the Government allege impels them to pass this Bill of such importance and make the vesting date what will probably be a few weeks or even a few days before the people of the country are allowed to make a decision. I say that that is a very wrong thing for a Government to do. I think that it is really a very wicked thing to do, and I do not think it will benefit them. I believe that in the long run, strongly as we may hold our political opinions on both sides, the people will not like what amounts to a kind of attempt at the last minute to deprive them of the right of decision, which all we democrats believe should be in the hands of the people and nowhere else.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Attewell
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) suggested that this Amendment should be accepted on the grounds that the hiving-off which must take place in many of the companies will take longer than had first been anticipated, and that the hiving-off could only be done between the time that the Bill reached the Statute Book and the vesting date. Is that a proposition which we should really take into consideration? If we look at the Second Schedule we find the activities mainly affected by this Bill. The first activity is:The working and getting of iron ore";the second is:The smelting of iron ore in a blast furnace with or without other metalliferous materials.and the third is:The production in the form of ingots of steel.When we come to the Third Schedule, we find the list of firms which, in the opinion of the Minister, conform to the Second Schedule activities. But when we come to analyse the memoranda of these companies, we find that they are engaged in activities other than the activities mentioned in the Third Schedule, and it is these activities which need to be hived-off. The hon. and gallant Member says that this will be an extremely difficult thing to do, and that we may have to have some special machinery. The answer to the hon. and gallant Member is to be found among Members opposite, because with their directorships in certain companies they are able to tell us precisely what these industries are that are to be hived-off. I suggest that very few of these industries to he hived-off will have any relation to the main activities contained in the Second Schedule.
I want to know just what is the difficulty in the matter if a company whose main business is connected with the activities set out in the Second Schedule has, for example. shipping or hotel interests. What is the difficulty in hiving-off in that case? We were given a long list of subsidiary industries the other day, the main purpose of the Opposition being to show that they had no relationship to the activities set out in the Second Schedule. We are asked to believe that hiving-off will be very difficult, though I suggest 471 that perhaps the best way to do it would be by means of a queen bee. In my inadequate way I have attempted to assist the passage of the Bill and to save Members in another place, friends of the Opposition, from having to do so much work. I am sure that we are all desirous of expediting the Bill and seeing it put on
§ the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 305; Noes, 155.475
|Division No. 113.]||AYES||[8.22 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Fairhurst, F.||Leonard, W.|
|Adams, Richard (Batham)||Farthing, W. J.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Albu, A. H.||Fernyhough, E.||Levy, B. W.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Follick, M.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Forman, J. C.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Logan, D. G.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Longden, F.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Gibbins, J.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Gibson, C. W.||McAdam, W.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Gilzean, A.||McAllister, G.|
|Baird, J.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Gooch, E. G.||McGhee, H. G|
|Barstow, P. G.||Goodrich, H. E.||McGovern, J.|
|Garton, C.||Gordon-Maker, P. C.||Mack, J. D.|
|Batlley, J. R.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)|
|Benson, G.||Grey, C. F.||McLeavy, F|
|Beswick, F.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Llanelly)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Binns, J.||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Boardman, H.||Gunter, R. J.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)|
|Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.||Guy W. H.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hale, Leslie||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Mothers, Rt. Hon. George|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hardman, D. R.||Messer, F.|
|Burden, T. W.||Hardy, E. A.||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Burke, W. A.||Harrison, J.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Callaghan, James||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Haworth, J.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Cheer, D.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Monstow, W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Herbison, Miss M.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hicks, G.||Morley, R.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hobson, C. R.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Cocks, F S.||Holman, P.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Collick, P.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Lewisham, E.)|
|Collins, V. J.||Horabin, T. L||Mort, D. L.|
|Colman, Miss G M.||Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Moyle, A.|
|Cook, T. F.||Hoy, J||Murray. J. D.|
|Cooper, G.||Hubbard, T.||Nally, W.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hughes, Entrys (S. Ayr)||Neal, H. (Claycress)|
|Crawley, A.||Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton. W.)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Cullen, Mrs.||Hynd., H. (Hackney, C.)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Dagger, G.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brantford)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Irving, W. J. [(Tottenham. N.)||O'Brien, T.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Jay, D. P. T.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jager, G. (Winchester)||Pagel, R. T.|
|Deer, G||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jenkins, R. H.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Debbie, W||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Parker, J.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Jones, Jack (Bolton)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Keenan, W.||Patoet, J. (Norwich)|
|Dye, S.||Kenyon., C.||Pearson, A.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Pearl, T. F.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||King, E. M.||Perrins, W.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Popplewell, E.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Kinley, J.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lang, G.||Price, M. Philips|
|Ewart, R.||Lavers, S.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Pryde, D. J.||Snow, J. W||Watkins, T. E.|
|Pursey, Comdr. H||Solley, L. J.||Watson, W. M.|
|Randall, H. E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon Sn Frank||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Ranger, J.||Sparks, J. A||Weitzman, D.|
|Rankin, J.||Steele, T.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Reeves, J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||West, D. G.|
|Rhodes H.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. C. R (Lambeth)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinh'gh, E.)|
|Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Swingler, S.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Roberts, A.||Sylvester, G. O.||Whiteley, Rt. 'Hon. W.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Symonds, A. L.||Wigg, George|
|Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)||Taylor, H. B (Mansfield)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C A. B|
|Rogers, G. H, R.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wilkes, L.|
|Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Royle, C.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Scollan, T.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||withams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Scott-Elliot, W||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Segal, Dr. S||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Shackleton., E. A. A||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Sharp, Granville||Timmons, J.||Willis, E.|
|Shawcross, C. N (Widnes)||Titterington, M. F.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Tolley, L.||Wilson, Rt. Han. J. H.|
|Silkin, Rt. Hon. L||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Simmons, C. J.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Woods, G. S.|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Vernon, Maj. W. F||Wyatt, W.|
|Skeffingten-Lodge, T. C.||Viant, S. P.||Yates, V. F.|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Walkden, E.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Walker, G. H.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)||Warbey, W. N.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Grimston, R. V.||Medlicott, Brigadier F.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Harden, J. R. E.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge,)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Haughton, S. G.||Neill, Sir William (Belfast, N.)|
|Birch, Nigel||Head, Brig. A. H.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. S C.||Nicholson, G.|
|Bower, N.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Nield., B. (Chester)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Odey, G. W.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hollis, M. C.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H,|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hope, Lord J.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Butler, Rt. H.n. R A. (S'ffr'n W'd'n)||Howard, Hon. A.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Carson, E||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R S. (Southport)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Challen, C.||Hurd, A.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O,|
|Clifton-Brawn, Lt.-Col. G.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Renton, D.|
|Cole, T. L.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Jennings, R.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F C.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Shepherd, S. (Newark)|
|De la Bere, R.||Langford-Holt, J.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Smithery, Sir W.|
|Drayson, G. B||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Snadden, W. M.|
|Drewe, C.||Linstead, H. N.||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lipson, D. L.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Low, A. R. W.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E.L||Lucas-Tooth, S. H.||Teeling, William|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Fox, Sir G.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||McFarlane, C. S.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thorp, Brigadier R A. F|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Maclay, Han. J. S.||Touche, G. C.|
|Gage, C.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Turtort, R. H.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|George, Maj. Rt. 'Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Marples, A. E.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||Maude, J. C.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|White, Sir D. (Fareham)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|White, J. B. (Canterbury)||Winterton, Rt Hon. Earl||Colonel Wheatley and|
|Williams, C. (Torquay)||York, C.||Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport.|
|Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I beg to move, in page 9, line 3, to leave out "by the Corporation or."
This Amendment clears up a point raised on the Committee stage. The Opposition thought it would be right to leave out the words. I was doubtful at the time, but I think there is some point in the Amendment and there is general agreement on it.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I think we ought to have a little more explanation about this. As an ordinary back bencher, when I find both Front Benches agreeing, I become slightly suspicious and, when the Minister says, "This happened in Committee," I have a feeling we have a right to know what happened. We ought to have an explanation of how the Front Opposition Bench managed to persuade the Minister. I know that the Front Bench of the Opposition are almost always right, but we might have the arguments here. After all, this Amendment is to cut out the Corporation and it is rather a big matter.
§ Mr. Strauss
Unless the House wants me to, I do not propose to help the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) to waste the time of the House. This matter was advocated by the Opposition. It is highly technical, but I could explain it at some length. If it is desired that I should take up the time of the Opposition by a long explanation, I shall do so, but I do not think that is the will of the House.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg to move, in page 9, line 10, at the end, to insert:and any person who is for the time being entitled to the principal of the loan or any part thereof may by notice given in writing to the Company within a period of twelve months from the date of transfer require repayment of the loan within a period of twenty-one days from the date of the notice and thereupon the loan shall be repayable within that period of twenty-one days together with interest (if any is payable on the loan) accruing up to the date of repayment.We are now turning from rather higher questions to technical matters and I hope 476 we can get something from the Government which will enable us to pass on to matters of greater moment. The Clause as now drafted enables the Government to cancel the collateral security for a loan, without at the same time making any provision whereby a lender should be repaid. I think the point of the Minister about this in Committee was that the security the lender would have in these circumstances, is that he has passed from the advantages of being a lender with collateral security into having His Majesty's Government as his creditor.
I think that was the point which the Solicitor-General put in his usual very emollient way. It really does not meet the point because it may take a good deal of time and considerable expense to get the loan repaid. I quite admit that the ultimate security is undoubted, but those who have had experience of getting reclaimed tax, etc., even from His Majesty's Treasury, know that considerable delay is involved. Proceedings generally begin with "The matter will have attention." Then one hears nothing for a month or two, and one is very lucky if one gets anything in the way of cash out of any of His Majesty's Departments for overpayments or anything like that for 10 months or a year. The object of this Amendment is very simple: it is that where collateral security for the loan is cancelled, the lender has the right to be paid. I do not wish to go into more subtle arguments than that. I hope that the Government can see their way to accept this Amendment so that we can get on.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
If I may say so, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has quite accurately represented the effect of this Amendment, which proposes that a lender shall have the right to be repaid. As the Bill stands, if the lender has no collateral security his loan stands as before. He is entitled to be repaid in accordance with the terms of the loan. If the terms are that he can have it back in three months or at three months' notice he is still so entitled. If the loan cannot be called in for two years he has still to wait for two years. That is, in 477 ordinary circumstances, perfectly reasonable. He is left in the same position as before except in this respect: if his loan is secured by debentures or some other collateral security he loses that collateral security. Instead of that he is, by the Bill, given a far firmer security under the terms of Clause 48, because the Corporation themselves are made responsible for the debts of the publicly-owned companies. So, instead of having some form of collateral security against the publicly-owned company, he has the far firmer security of being entitled to proceed against the Corporation themselves in order to obtain repayment of his loan.
There is one exception to what I have been saying. There is a special class of loan for which special provision has been made by Clause 14, which was introduced in Committee as a result of discussions which took place there. That Clause is designed to deal with loans made particularly by the Finance Corporation for Industry, those loans being loans which give further incidental rights to the lending Corporation. They give the right to appoint directors, to convert the loan into shares of the company to which the loan is made, etc.
It was thought right and fair in the case of those particular loans, which were made for the purpose of financing the industry, that the Corporation should be put in the special position of being able to call for their loans on notice and get payment of the money earlier than would have been possible had they only been able to get it back in accordance with the terms of the loan. They are given a special right, on notice, to have the loan repaid within a comparatively short period. Those types of loan have been singled out for the reason that they were made for the purpose of financing the industry, and it would not be right that the loans should remain outstanding when the companies which they were designed to finance have passed into public ownership.
In the case of the ordinary loan that consideration does not apply. It is left exactly as before and the lender gets his loan back according to its terms. Under Clause 48, if he has a collateral security, he is given a still more reliable security in that he can go against the Corporation themselves which, by Statute, are made responsible to discharge the amount 478 of the loan. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Yes, but there is always such a lot of delay in obtaining repayment of a loan from a corporation of this sort." I really do not see why that should be. If there is a delay, if letters are not answered, or anything of that sort, the remedy is easy; one resorts to the courts, and by expeditious procedure, by using the ordinary Order No. 14 procedure, one can bring about an immediate result. One can get an almost immediate judgment unless there is a defence to the claim; if there is no defence to the claim, one can enforce the judgment at once against the Corporation, which are bound to pay. I think that, in justice, we have left the position as it should be left. The ordinary lender who has any consideration to urge is in exactly the same position as he was before. Therefore, I hope the House will agree that this Amendment ought not to be accepted.
No special case has been made out for the ordinary lender. We have provided by Clause 14 for a special class of loan. Clause 14 was submitted to and approved by the Finance Corporation for Industry. It was also submitted to and agreed to by the Committee of the London Clearing Bankers. We are not aware of any other loan or any other lender who could urge special considerations such as those that were urged by the Finance Corporation for Industry. There is no other loan which has any special characteristics of that sort of which we are aware, and, having submitted the matter to the body representing the bankers we have every reason to suppose that it is very unlikely that there are special lenders who can urge special claims of that sort. For these reasons, I hope the House will agree that the Amendment shall not be accepted.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am becoming very suspicious of the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General because he is so polite and persuasive on these matters that I am quite sure that before we are very much older, I am going to accept something he says which I should not do. But, on this occasion I should like to ask him this question. Supposing the terms of a loan are that if the collateral security should fall below a Certain point the loan becomes payable, can he say whether the fact that the Government have cancelled the collateral security would enable the 479 lender to come straight on to the Corporation?
§ The Solicitor-General
Supposing that an ordinary lender, that is to say, a non-Clause 14 lender,. desires to obtain repayment of his loan, and he has a collateral security, a charge upon the assets of the borrower, or some other form of collateral security, and supposing he finds, owing to the shrinkage of the assets on which the security is charged, that the security is not likely to be adequate to secure repayment of the full amount of the loan—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon, but I was saying that if the terms of the loan are that the collateral security must be maintained at x, and then, on the cancellation of the security by the Government, that particular security for the loan should not be present, the lender has the right to at once reclaim his money from the Corporation.
§ The Solicitor-General
It depends upon the exact terms of the loan, bat if under the terms there is a right to repayment the lender can at once first demand repayment from the company, and, if the company does not pay, he can obtain judgment, and that judgment must be met by the Corporation. It is bound to be met.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am not happy about this, and I think it would have been much better to make the loans payable the moment the collateral security is removed by the Government. However, after what the Solicitor-General has said, I do not wish to press the point much further, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I beg to move, in page 9, line 47, at the end, to insert:or any company in whose case—Since the introduction of the Bill it has been represented to us on a number of occasions by various bodies, including the Opposition, that the formula embodied in the Bill under which certain iron and steel works come over to the Corporation, was drawn in such a way as to include a number of smaller companies which should not come within the family over which the Corporation will preside.
- (i) the average annual output during the said years of the products of each of the said activities carried on by the company on the said day, being the output of works
480 operated by the company on the said day, was less than fifty thousand tons; and
- (ii) the total number of persons employed by the company on the said day wholly or mainly for the purposes of the said activities was not more than 15 per cent. of the total number of persons employed by the company on that day."
I must admit straight away that we had considerable difficulty, when we gave careful thought to this problem, in deciding what section of the iron and steel industry should properly come under the Corporation. We were anxious that there should be sufficient companies representing a large enough section of the iron and steel industry to enable the Corporation to organise into an integrated whole in an easy and convenient way those over which they had control. It was essential, therefore, that the Corporation should take over the major section of the iron and steel industry. On the other hand, we were also anxious that the Corporation should not be the owner of companies which were really outside the iron and steel industry because of the various ancillary or other activities in which the companies were engaged, and the possession of which would only create burdens and difficulties for the Corporation which they would be much better without.
We have given this matter careful consideration to see whether there were any companies whose shares it was proposed should be taken over by the Corporation which, in the interests of those companies, and in the interests of the Corporation, might properly be left out. We came to the conclusion that there were a few companies in the iron and steel industry, originally listed in the Third Schedule, which were small companies and which, because of their peculiar activities, were so far outside the iron and steel industry that they would be more of a nuisance inside than a benefit because they would throw certain responsibilities upon the Corporation which the Corporation would 481 be much better without so that they could be devoting their time to the work of organising and reorganising and improving the iron and steel industry instead.
We came to the conclusion, after careful consideration, that those companies which we thought should be properly excluded all fell within a certain formula which is set out in the Amendment. In other words, all those companies whose total output is less than 50,000 tons a year and whose proportion of labour devoted to Second Schedule activities is less than 15 per cent. could, we thought, conveniently be left out of the Third Schedule. I will inform the House which those firms are and what are their major occupations. Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss, Limited. Only 12 per cent. of their labour is engaged or was engaged in making iron and steel or in Second Schedule activities. Their chief activities are the production of bolts, nuts, tramway and railway fencings, gates, and a variety of other highly-finished products.
Then there is the Carron Company. Only 4 per cent. of their labour is engaged on Second Schedule activities; most of their activities are concerned with the making of ferrous and non-ferrous articles of a great variety, and they have various engineering activities. They produce a wide range of finished iron and brass goods, and marine and land machinery and equipment. They have a small and, I believe, an obsolescent blast furnace, for which alone they were included in the Schedule, because the output of that furnace was such as to bring them into the formula set out in that Schedule. Then there is the Clay Cross Company. Their main activities are the production of centrifugally cast and concrete lined pipes, vertically cast pipes, and flanged special castings. Only 10 per cent. of the labour in those works is engaged in Second Schedule activities.
The next company that is excluded—or rather appears to be excluded: it is not really—is the Darlington Forge Limited, which is excluded by the formula but will, nevertheless, be taken over because it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the English Steel Corporation, and so will come out of the list in the Third Schedule but will, in fact, come under the Corporation just the same. The 482 next company is The Executors of James Mills, a subsidiary of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds. Of their labour 14 per cent. only is engaged in Second Schedule activities. They are primarily concerned in the production of a wide variety of small accessories such as cotters and grooved pins mainly for the motor, aircraft, electrical engineering, and shipbuilding industries, and for scaffolding fittings for the building industry. The last company is Richard Johnson and Nephew, of whose labour seven per cent. is engaged in Second Schedule activities. They make ferrous wire, but a very substantial proportion—more than half—of non-ferrous products.
We felt that these companies were very much on the fringe of the iron and steel industry proper as we envisaged it, and that they could, as I said earlier, to the advantage of the Corporation, be well left outside. We gave this matter most careful thought. I want to say quite definitely and categorically that we are not prepared to extend this list of exclusions. We are certain that in making these exclusions we have gone as far as we ought, and should not go any farther. I made the exclusions, not because of any representations made to us by the companies, but because, on an impartial survey of the situation, and of the activities that these companies were carrying on, we thought we did not want to burden the Corporation with any responsibility for them, and that it would be better to leave them out, and to leave the Corporation free to carry that very heavy responsibility which will be on their shoulders in the organisation of those very large iron and steel concerns for which they will be responsibile.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
My right hon. Friend did not mention the Staveley Iron and Chemical Company, Limited. I was under the impression that that particular company had been excluded on something like the formula included in the present Amendment.
§ Mr. Strauss
No. That is a quite different situation. That has nothing to do with this formula at all. There were certain companies that were put into the Schedule because we were not aware—we could not be aware—whether those companies were actually operating, or had the ownership of iron and steel works. 483 In some cases we had to put in both the parent and subsidiary companies because we were not quite sure which was the owner of a particular works. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that that company has nothing to do with the proposal which I am now putting before the House.
§ Mr. Peake
We quite understand the difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself. He originally selected the names of 106 companies which are concerned in the iron and steel industry, and he then had to frame a definition, contained in Clause 11 (3), which will include those companies and no others. There is already a proviso in subsection (3) which states:Provided that the said Third Schedule does not include any company whose main activity on the said day consisted of the manufacture of motor vehicles.That proviso, of course, is there to exclude the Ford Motor Works at Dagenham from the operation of the Bill.
Now we are met with this position. The right hon. Gentleman has decided to take an additional six companies out of the Third Schedule of the Bill. We would, of course, welcome the exclusion of any additional companies from the Third Schedule because, in our view, it would be better to have no Third Schedule at all, and in fact to have no Bill; but the right hon. Gentleman, having decided on quite arbitrary grounds to exclude these additional companies from the scope of the Bill, has now to alter his definition contained in subsection (3), and the words on the Order Paper are designed to create a new definition which will have the effect' of separating the six small companies to which the Minister has referred from the other companies in the Schedule.
It would appear that there are two conditions to be satisfied now in order that a company may be excluded from the Third Schedule. The two new conditions, in addition to the conditions previously in the Bill, are that the average annual output during the basic years of the products of Second Schedule activities are less than 50,000 tons; and—this condition has also to be fulfilled—that the total number of persons employed by the company on a particular day for the purpose of Second Schedule activities was 484 not more than 15 per cent. of the total number of persons employed by the company.
Both these conditions had to be fulfilled in order to secure the exclusion of the six additional companies from the Schedule. The only question that I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman at this stage is: If any other company whose name at present appears in the Schedule can prove to him that it satisfies those two new conditions which he proposes to include in the Bill, will he, at a later stage, also take the name of that company out of the Third Schedule?
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the same question the other way round. The Minister said that no other company could be added to these six new companies to be excluded. If that is so, what is the point of having a definition? Why not rely on excluding them by name?
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
We must go on some principle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It may be peculiar to hon. Members opposite, but that is the way we proceed. The situation is this: I have it on the highest possible authority, which is the authority of the Iron and Steel Federation, that there are no other companies which will come into this definition, and, therefore, this question does not really arise.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
The intervention by the hon., Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) is, in my submission, very much in point. The Amendment which the Minister is moving to subsection (3) may improve that subsection in his contemplation. If we omitted the whole of subsection (3) it would make absolutely no difference in law to the operation of this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at subsection (1)—to which I refer on this point of the argument, without elaborating it—he will see that what is taken over areall securities of the companies specified in the Third Schedule.9.0 p.m.
Those are the only operative words in deciding what is taken over.
Subsection (3) is inserted merely to suggest to the House or to the public that there is some sort of principle 485 operating in the Government's mind. The opening words of that subsection are:The companies specified in the Third Schedule to this Act are, subject as hereinafter provided, those which in the Minister's opinion fulfil the conditions set out.Should the Minister's opinion be wholly wrong, there is no sort of remedy available to anybody to put him right. The only operative thing is the Schedule, and if anybody moved to omit subsection (3) the Government could accept such an Amendment without making one iota of difference to the operation of this Bill. If the Minister doubts that, I ask him to consult the learned Solicitor-General now sitting next to him, who I am certain will confirm that opinion.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I hope that my right hon. Friend, and any other Members of His Majesty's Government who may at any time be tempted to make concessions to the opinion of the Opposition and representations made by the Opposition, will take note of their attitude in respect of the matter we have just been discussing. In Committee, when we were discussing this Clause a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite argued that the definition in the Clause was much too wide, that it included a number of companies who ought not to be included in a Bill of this sort. To illustrate their point they quoted some of the very companies which the Minister has just mentioned, giving information about their products and the proportion of those products which were Second Schedule activities, about their total pay rolls and the proportion of the total pay rolls which concerned Second Schedule activities. They used the very information which my right hon. Friend has just repeated to the House as an argument for saying that this Clause ought to be amended.
Along comes my right hon. Friend, impressed by those arguments, to do precisely what the Opposition asked him to do in Committee, to be met, first by a speech from the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) suggesting that this is a rather shabby sort of expedient, and secondly by a series of jeers from hon. but rather less learned Members behind the Opposition Front Bench. If that is the sort of behaviour of the Opposition when concessions are made to them, I repeat the earnest hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will 486 bear this in mind on future similar occasions.
§ Mr. Peake
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that I did not say one word in opposition to the Amendment. All I pointed out was that we had to alter the definition in order to make it fit the facts. Of course, everybody knows that the whole purpose of this definition Clause is to prevent this Bill from being a hybrid Bill and giving these companies an opportunity of taking objection.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I did not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman had opposed the Amendment before the House. All I had suggested was that the praise with which he damned it was very faint indeed.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) for making one thing perfectly clear. This Amendment seems to be a good one. The hon. Member for Reading says it is entirely due to the industry and the ability of the Opposition. I accept that as an illustration of how good the Opposition is. He then proceeded to advise the Government that when they had done a good thing they should not do a little more. The only thing I doubt now, especially after the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, is whether it would not be very much better if, instead of taking out three or four firms as we are now doing, a new Amendment were introduced on the advice of the Opposition to extract the whole of the firms. If the Government did that and brought in a completely blank Bill, it would be something sensible to show to the country.
§ Amendment agreed to.