§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, in view of the record production attained by the iron and steel industry and the urgent needs of the rearmament programme, is of the opinion that the decision of His Majesty's Government to give immediate effect to the nationalisation of this industry is not in the public interest and should be reversed.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
On a point of order. I desire, Mr. Speaker, to raise a point of order of substance and importance relating to the terms of the Amendment. The Amendment amounts to a Motion of Censure on His Majesty's Government for giving immediate effect to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. In the last House of Commons, an Act of Parliament was passed, Section 11 of which provided that the only discretion given to the Minister was to make an order for nationalisation either by 1st January, 1951, or within 12 months thereafter. The matter was raised in the form of a Motion in the last Session of this Parliament, and that Motion was defeated.
An order has been made bringing this Act into force and fixing the vesting day as 15th February. There is now no Parliamentary power to revoke that order except with the consent of both Houses of Parliament and the consent of His Majesty. The matter is in the form of an Act of Parliament, and, if this Amendment were carried, the Minister would have no power to carry out the terms of the Amendment. He is, in fact, being censured for putting into force the precise terms of an Act of Parliament.
May I mention one second point briefly? May I suggest, if it be that you are against me on this, Mr. Speaker—and I am bound to say that I can find no 1743 precedent of any kind in the whole history of Parliament for an Amendment of this kind censuring a Minister for carrying out an Act of Parliament after it has been implemented—that the only point which can be discussed in this debate is whether the vesting date shall be 15th February or some other appropriate date before 31st December, 1951?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to be rather abrupt about this, but when such a complicated point of order it brought before the Speaker without notice, how can he possibly decide? Surely, it would be courtesy to let him have an advance copy so that he could taike advice. All I know is that the Amendment has been put on the Order Paper, and, therefore, I understand it is in order, and I must rule, because I have had no time to consider it, that it is in order.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order. I think the House will have every sympathy with your protest, Mr. Speaker, about being faced with a substantial point of order without notice, but, nevertheless, it surely cannot be disputed that the point raised is one of substance, and it would surely be wrong for the House to proceed to consider an Amendment which might be out of order merely because you had not had the opportunity of taking advice on it. Would it not be best, in the exercise of your discretion, Sir, to adjourn this debate for a short time so that you may consider the point raised by my hon. Friend, and so as to avoid the probability that the House will be proceeding to devote a whole day to discussing an Amendment which is not merely wearisome repetition, but out of order altogether?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a very interesting argument, but I really do not know any rules which prevent anybody putting a Motion on the Order Paper provided it is in Parliamentary terms. After all, I am quite prepared to rule now that this Amendment is in order and to take the consequences. This is a matter of common sense, and not of legal phraseology.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot have my Rulings argued, I am afraid. I have ruled that the Amendment is in order.
§ Mr. Silverman
I certainly was not presuming to argue about your Ruling at all, Mr. Speaker. What I am seeking to do is to ask whether we may assume in future that any Motion which censures a Minister for performing the duties laid upon him by this House is one which the House may debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I always look at any Motion on the Order Paper and presume that if it passes the Table it is in order. But I cannot say what I should do if the matter were brought up without prior notice at the last moment and I had not had time to consider it. I might then rule it out of order.
§ Mr. Churchill
I was brought up to believe that it was a great mistake for a man or a party to advertise their fears. The hon. Member has many differences with his own Front Bench—
§ Mr. Churchill
I hope so, but I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends will view with any marked confidence voluntary efforts on his part to come to their rescue.
Here this afternoon we find ourselves at a major stumbling block to national unity and to national safety, and it is surely only right that the House of Commons should show itself capable of surveying the position with composure, firmness and a clear eye. I do not expect that we shall reach any measure of agreement—that is one of the tragedies of the times in which we live. Who is responsible for forcing this disruptive issue upon the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "You."] It is certain that if the Government had not fixed the vesting date for steel at almost the earliest moment at which the statute permitted, there would be no debate on this subject here this afternoon.
But it may also be asked of us on these benches, "Why don't you submit in silence instead of raising controversies at a time of national crises?" Suppose you see a man walking towards a precipice, compelled by some deep and dark motive, and even at the risk of controversies you ask him to stop, are you in the wrong to do it? Or was he wrong 1745 in walking towards the gulf? That also is one of the issues which we must weigh tonight.
In our view on this side of the House, the fixing of the vesting date of the Iron and Steel Act for 15th February, when any date in this year would have been within the limits of the statute, was, having regard to the moment when the decision was announced and to the surrounding circumstances, a deed of partisan agression. It was bound to cause widespread rupture of national unity by party politics at a moment when unity and safety ought to come ever more together. I do not bear the burden, through the Amendment which I have placed on the Order Paper, for raising this issue now. The Government have the power, they have the initiative, they have thrust this policy upon the House, and our reaction is natural, inevitable and salutary.
I do not consider that any question of principle or of finality presses the Government at this time to enforce steel nationalisation. The issue is not one of national control of a key industry, because both sides of the House, like ownership, management and labour in the steel industry itself, could easily agree upon the proposal set forth in the Report of the Economic Committee of the Trades Union Congress to their Brighton Congress, about which I spoke to the House last time we debated the matter.
There is, I suppose, no prime, vast, complicated industry in the country, in the direction of which from a practical point of view men of goodwill and good sense, however seated in the House or inflamed with party strife or working in the industry, can more easily find agreement than on this question of steel. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party stand—[Interruption.] Have a jeer at them. Why do not hon. Members opposite jeer at them? Some hon. Members opposite may find themselves in a much smaller party one of these days. The Conservative Party, and I believe, the Liberal Party stand on the proposal of the Trades Union Congress which is thoroughly acceptable, alike to the management and the ownership of the steel industry.
§ Mr. Dodds (Dartford)
This time it has taken the Liberals two days or more to 1746 make up their minds as to what they should do.
§ Mr. Churchill
I hope the hon. Gentleman may be called in the debate, though I shall not be able to make any special representations on his behalf.
As to finality. Not to enforce steel nationalisation now is not to say there never will be steel nationalisation. If the Government and the Socialist Party choose to come into line themselves, there would he no reason why they should not, when circumstances are less grave and menacing, resume their theoretical movement for the nationalisation of iron and steel. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thank you very much."] I am not at all disturbed by interruptions, having experienced them almost before many hon. Members opposite were born. They are nearly always an advantage to the speaker. He has many advantages in reply.
As long as there is a good working arrangement there is no reason why the Socialist Party should not press their doctrinal point when the time comes, and giving way or postponing now would in no way weaken their ideological integrity. No one could hold it against them that they had abandoned their principles by adopting for the time being the trade union solution. The principle of nationalisation is not, I submit, involved. But even if it were, it might well await a period in our affairs when our lives and existence as one of the leading branches of human society were not in jeopardy.
I earnestly hope that I shall be granted full liberty of debate on this occasion. As to being booed—this was an experience which in nearly 50 years of the House of Commons I had never previously endured, and indeed it was an exhibition which I have never witnessed employed against anyone in all the Parliamentary storms through which I have lived. [Interruption.] I can quite understand the feelings of shame which actuate the hon. Gentleman. Let me reassure him. I can only say. Sir, that if it is any relief to hon. Gentlemen opposite at any time in my remarks to indulge in such an expression of their feelings. I hope you, Mr. Speaker, will give the fullest latitude and flexibility to your interpretation of the rules of order.
I propose, Sir, if I am allowed, to reduce this bitter and dangerous controversy 1747 to the simple limits within which it now confronts us. First, let me say I am astonished that the Prime Minister, with his responsibilities which I have never Seen so personally concentrated and overwhelming, should go out of his way to add this new harsh burden to the many burdens which he bears, and to the many troubles and tangles through which he has to find his way, and in which he claims responsibility for guiding our country.
Was there ever a moment in our history when there was less need for a Prime Minister, who ought to try to act in the name of the nation—not merely half the nation—to open up all this formidable field of trouble and discord among us? No one would reproach him if he said, "I am still resolved upon the nationalisation of iron and steel but I feel that at the present time we have enough problems, and many of these problems can only be settled by the co-operation of the mass of our whole people. I have to ask others to make sacrifices. I will make one myself." That would, I am sure, have been the right course for a man who has the controlling power of the country in his hands.
What I am seeking for and, if I can find it, what I will examine at this point are the motives or impulsions—they cannot be called compulsions—that have led the Prime Minister so obdurately to take on his overburdened shoulders this new additional task which provokes and challenges so much ill will, and which must do him and his party and our country so much harm in so many ways. We are told, "We have a mandate from the nation for the nationalisation of iron and steel now. We put it in our 1945 manifesto. We carried it with our majority through the House of Commons in that same Parliament. It could have been delayed by the House of Lords, but we have dealt with that; and now after the second election"—I hope I am stating the case fairly—"we have not only placed our Bill upon the Statute Book, but we have had majorities of never less than six in favour of its immediate enforcement. Who then should challenge our right?"
Let us look into this mandate argument. The 1945 election was not fought on steel. If what I have heard is to be believed—and I am pretty sure of its truth—steel was only added as an after- 1748 thought to the already extensive programme which was proposed by the Socialist Party. Mines, railways, some aspects of transport, and services like-electricity and gas opened up a very large field for the activities of a single Parliament already burdened with all the perplexities of the aftermath of a terrible struggle and the transition from war conditions to what we all then hoped would be an era of unchallenged peace and freedom.
I do not admit as democratic constitutional doctrine that anything that is stuck into a party manifesto thereupon becomes a mandated right if the electors vote for the party who draw up the manifesto. [Interruption.] We are all allowed to have our opinions about constitutional matters. If that principle is accepted, why not shove a dozen more items in? One can always leave them out if there is not time, or circumstances change. But is it not for our convenience to have a lot to play with, and surely it costs nothing to a party seeking a change or a new deal? Why not add the word "etc."? I ask the Lord President and the Chief Whip, why not add the word "etc." in the list of planks in the party platform? We could then be told, "Do you not see these letters 'etc.' written at that point in our party manifesto? Does that not give us the right and impose upon us the obligation to do anything we please?"
At the last election steel played no prominent part in the manifestos and propaganda of the Socialist Party. The Conservative and Liberal Parties, on the other hand, declared their vehement opposition to it. [Interruption.] I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Churchill
The repeal of the Act was thus one of the main issues in the domestic sphere of the Opposition parties together, and they had a majority—I am sorry to rub this in—of one and three-quarter million votes over those who voted, consciously or unconsciously, for the nationalisation of steel.
But we are told, "The numerical vote of the people at a General Election is not a relevant fact. Who cares for the numerical vote?" The test, we are told, 1749 is: What is the vote of the House of Commons in the new Parliament resulting from the polls? Perhaps hon. Members opposite will please cheer. They had better learn the doctrine, or they may fall into the errors of diversionism or even distortion ism. On this matter of the test in the House, the Government majority has fallen as low as six. How vain to call this a mandate which leaves the Government of the day no choice but to go ahead with this unwise and untimely doctrinal Measure. If the Lord President of the Council had not had the happy thought to abolish university representation in breach of the agreement to which he was a party, at the Speaker's Conference in 1944, even this paltry majority would have been lacking. So where is the mandate?
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
Were the university seats all pocket boroughs of the Conservative Party then?
§ Mr. Churchill
They certainly were not, but it was because the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends thought they were that they abolished them. We all recall the remarks of the Secretary of State for Scotland on the subject at that time.
So I say, where is the mandate?—not in the 1945 programme, not in the vote of the people in 1950, nor in the House of Commons votes here in our present distressed assembly. It certainly does not, I think, await the Socialist Party when they are forced, as they will soon be, to appeal to the electorate. There is no mandate which is not an abuse of the term, and no obligation whatever on the Prime Minister and the Government to proceed with what I believe in their hearts they know to be an unwise and unfortunate Measure. Events have cast upon the Government fearful responsibilities which they seem to have willingly accepted. No one who has the welfare and even the safety of the country at heart would do other than respect them if they laid aside every impediment and strove only for national survival against perils which no man can measure, and which grow ever nearer and ever more grave.
I cannot recollect any more strange jumble than that into which Parliament has been plunged by the bringing forward now of the Iron and Steel Act. Ninety-two firms have been chosen out of the 1750 whole iron and steel industry. They represent about half the labour employed, but they dovetail, penetrate and permeate all the rest in such a manner as to affect and disturb the whole. No principle has governed the selection of those firms who should be in or out. When the Minister of Supply was asked in February, 1949; how he arrived at the split-up of the industry, he said:We have found this the most convenient and practical method of achieving our purpose.… Our purpose is to get the preponderant parts of the basic sections of the industry with a substantial and proportionate and appropriate part of the finishing processes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 1st February, 1949; c. 612.]But that is not a principle. It is the negation of a principle. It is merely the expression of a personal purpose and an individual point of view. Anyone can say, "This is appropriate," or "This is proportionate," and his opinion will no doubt in certain cases deserve consideration. But here we have the mass of this vast and infinitely complex business, upon which not only our economic life, but possibly even our physical existence, depends, and it is cut in twain in a rough and ready way on no principle but the arbitrary personal judgment of a Minister, and for no purpose but party politics at a moment of grave danger.
It is commonplace to say that the steel industry has served, and is serving, us well. It is expanding production, especially in exports; its prices are cut lower than almost any other country; it has nearly half a century of peaceful progress and goodwill between the management and the wage earner—a great measure of common comprehension exists among them today; it has a well defined and established relationship with the State, including the fixing of prices and the direction and emphasis of effort. All this we have achieved here in the British steel industry. It should be taken as a model Why should it be turned topsy-turvy? Why this industry, of all others, and now, at this time, of all others? These are surely questions which have often been asked and they embody one great question which we must try to answer here tonight.
I talk of the disruption of the iron and steel industry advisedly. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] I shall explain that. Custom and experience have set clear boundaries to the industry. These were 1751 perhaps most sharply defined in the days of the war-time Iron and Steel Control, and this experience has particular relevance to defence. That control defined the iron and steel industry as stretching from iron ore production up to an immense variety of steel products, which I shall not try to enumerate. This same area of the industry came under the control of the post-war Iron and Steel Board and over it the Ministry of Supply at present has long exercised extensive powers of control. The powers of control have been accepted willingly.
On the industry's side, the firms have similarly been organised for the provision of common services such as imports, the consideration of development plans, arrangements to meet the requirements of consuming industries, statistics, etc. The Iron and Steel Federation covers the whole range of steel processes. The Joint Iron and Steel Council deals with common services in relation to the foundry pig iron and iron foundry industry. These organisations have been developed for many of the very purposes specified in the Iron and Steel Act and have enabled the Ministry of Supply to carry out, in relation to the whole of the industry, the responsibilities which the Act now seeks to throw upon the new State Corporation controlling only a section of the industry. Is that not a very rough thing to do?
The second main feature of the Act is that it gives the Minister powers to give directions to the Corporation and particularly mentions the duty of agreeing with him programmes of development, training and research. In all these fields of activity the industry is at present working on programmes agreed with, or satisfactory to, the Ministry of Supply. These programmes are in full course of achievement, and unlike any programme that can be drawn up by the new Corporation, they relate to the whole output of the industry and not merely to the arbitrarily selected sections.
The third subject on which programmes under the Act have to be agreed with Ministers is research. Here again, the industry is already well in the van. It has the largest industrial research organisation of any industry in the country. I have seen no criticism made by any Government spokesman that there is something lacking and that it is urgently 1752 necessary to proceed with some new type of organisation for the purposes of research. But here again this organisation relates to the whole production of all the firms in the country, and the working out and establishment of some separate research arrangement for the 92 scheduled companies can only cause confusion and certainly cannot be hastened by making 15th February the vesting day.
There is one recent proof of the growing efficiency of the British steel industry in its relation to coal. Every day we are exhorted to save coal and at the same time to increase production. It seems almost incredible that the steel industry should have been able to do both. In the last two years—1949 and 1950—it has increased its production by more than 1½ million tons, from about 14½ million tons to over 16¼ million tons, but—and note this—without making any increased demand upon our nationalised coal supplies. Could we have a greater service to the Government? Could there be a truer measure of economic efficiency, progress and refinement? Every supporter of coal nationalisation on the benches opposite should be grateful to the steel industry and to the Executive of the Steel Federation for the example they have set.
§ Mr. Churchill
Prices rise around us daily in every quarter, but when the railway freights went up last summer and many firms and all the nationalised industries responded nimbly, the British steel industry swallowed the dose, and have apparently digested it. They made no increase. They took it in their stride. This increased production by private enterprise without drawing more upon nationalised coal, this maintenance of an effective and profitable selling price without any increase to the public at home or any loss of competitive power abroad, ought surely to be regarded as a friendly and beneficent exploit by every Member who voted for coal and railway nationalisation.
But what is their reward? The industry is to be plunged into deepening confusion at a moment when harmony, smooth working and well-known contacts and organisation are more than ever vital. Sir, it is a crazy deed. We claim 1753 on this side that a cruel discord has been needlessly and wantonly thrust into our anxious and critical affairs. We affirm also that if it is carried out and enforced, this Act will be a deep and major injury to the whole process of rearmament. The iron and steel industry is the core of national rearmament.
§ Mr. Churchill
There are many other things that matter, some perhaps even more, but as a broad, fundamental element in the whole process of national rearmament, a smooth-running, efficient steel industry, under experienced and capable management, is not only paramount, but indispensible.
I have long sought for the true explanation of the strange decision of a Cabinet containing several experienced men to choose so early a vesting date for steel at the very moment when they were appealing for the help and co-operation of all parties in the national rearmament and defence. The conjuncture seemed perverse and unnatural in the extreme. I see no alternative but that this is a manœuvre for party purposes of a complex but, none the less, obvious character. The Socialist left wing have to suffer much nowadays. They have to vote £4,700 million of additional expenditure for rearmament; they have to support voting with the Americans in branding China as an aggressor; they have to vote for the rearmament, within limits, of Germany to defend herself and to take part in general European defence; they have to call up nearly 250,000 men from the Class Z Reserve—although they compromise by making it for only 15 days, which if it does no good, cannot do much harm; they have had, through the policy of the Foreign Office, to support Egypt against Palestine with weapons sorely needed here at home.
They have had to do a lot of things they do not like, and which are contrary to their native promptings. Their leaders felt they could he held together only by the bringing forward of this specific cause of party antagonism which would appeal to the strong, inherent, factional emotions which range below the Gangway. I repeat what I said the other day, that this unpatriotic step is being taken by the Prime Minister to 1754 placate his unhappy tail. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Hon. Members opposite will not get out of it all by laughing.
What defence does the right hon. Gentleman suppose that this will give him at the bar of history, or even before his fellow countrymen in the near future, if the British and United Nations' sky continues to darken? I have had my share of responsibilities in public life. While my strength remains I should not shrink from bearing them again, but it is no extravagance of rhetorical expression if I say that I would rather be banished from public life for ever than be responsible for the action which the Prime Minister is taking in asking the House to vote for the 15th February vesting date tonight. I earnestly trust that Parliament will restrain him. So tremendous a situation, such awful hazards, such an unworthy contribution—I can hardly believe that the Attlee who worked at my side for more than five years of a life and death struggle is willing to have his reputation injured in this way.
I feel emboldened to hope that, perhaps, the worst will not happen. Perhaps, we can hear more from the Minister of Supply. Is it, I ask him, a fact that, instead of this inadequate and almost absurd Corporation taking over the direct control of sections of the steel industry in the near future, so far as rearmament is concerned, the existing body, that has served us so well, which comprises not only the 92 firms to be nationalised but, at least, 400 others, may be allowed to carry on its vital service to the whole industry and to the nation? I know he is going to follow me, and I hope that he will deal with this matter. Will they be allowed to carry on, not only for a few transitional months, but for an indefinite period? How else can the Minister of Supply work out the intricate and comprehensive plans for rearmament—now overdue, but the prime responsibility for which falls upon him and upon his Department?
So far as it goes and so long as it lasts any movement in this direction would represent a concession not only to our views, wishes and arguments, but, even more, to the brutal and urgent necessities of defence with which the Government are confronted, and which, whatever they 1755 say, they will have to obey. If there is any foundation for what I have said, I hope that the Minister will tell us. If not, he should, surely, contradict me when he speaks, for if it be true that this continuance of control of the Iron and Steel Federation is to be maintained indefinitely it cuts the ground from under his own feet, and all the more is our action vindicated; and our intention to Note against the vesting of steel will be strengthened and not weakened by the course which may be forced upon the Government through physical facts. However, we shall, perhaps, hear more about this later.
But, I ask, what is the point of persisting in the transfer of ownership at this moment? It can only be, as I have said, a party point of the narrowest character. To give the nation no more control than it has already over the whole industry, we have merely to pay out about £300 million of stock, which must be manufactured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to persons who are now investing their money in a business in which they have confidence and which has served us all so well.
Let us, therefore, look closer into the question of the acceleration of the act of vesting now to be imposed upon us. What is all this hurry for? [Interruption.] I do not mind the hon. Gentleman's discourtesy. He takes as much as he can get from the House of Commons and gives as little as possible to it. Surely it would be wise and reasonable, even now, to postpone the vesting, at least within the latitude allowed within the Act? The Government always led us to believe that there would be a period of approximately nine months between the appointment of the Corporation and the vesting date. I have all the necessary quotations here from speeches by Lord Hall in another place and by the Minister of Supply at that Box. So far, the Corporation has been in existence for only four months.
Another five months could easily have been allowed—nine was the figure always mentioned—and much might have happened in that time to settle the outstanding difficulties. If in 1949 it was thought that vesting should not take place until nine months after the appointment of the Corporation it is surely unreasonable, 1756 in the infinitely more complex and disturbing conditions of today, to attempt to vest within four months. The Minister of Supply dwelt upon the feature of the Act that gives him latitude; he said that there may be industrial or political developments which may make it harmful for the iron and steel industries to transfer on that date, in which case the Minister of Supply has power to postpone the date of general transfer. What foresight! And what a waste of foresight! The Prime Minister and his Government have resolved to enforce the vesting date and to disdain the latitude which their own Act allowed them at the earliest moment.
This decision has brought in its train a host of troubles which can only be ended by a General Election, for which we shall continue to strive without a day or night's cessation. It has brought many stresses and losses upon us which are unfair. Let me give an instance or two. Out of the 92 firms that are to be nationalised over half are not publicly quoted securities and the rest are publicly quoted. The publicly quoted companies are to be bought out at their Stock Exchange value at the dates prescribed. Some of them have had very hard treatment. Those who have suffered most have often been those who had taken most thought for the future and been very sparing in the distribution of dividends, in response to appeals made from the Government benches. This has told against them. But the private companies, over half the 92, were accorded the right to appeal to arbitration—a similar right being exercised, of course, by the Minister.
We on this side have always maintained that the Stock Exchange value for publicly quoted securities is not a fair basis of compensation. At the same time, those securities which are not publicly quoted and have had to be assessed by agreement between the firms and the Minister of Supply, are being much more equitably dealt with than the publicly quoted securities. Under the terms of the Act, both classes of security are supposed to be valued on the same basis, but how does it all work out? For example, in the case of the 24 larger public concerns whose shares are publicly quoted, the compensation represents 75 per cent. of the book value of the net assets.
1757 In the case of the nine private companies for which agreements have already been made by the Minister of Supply—
§ Mr. Churchill
Hon. Gentlemen opposite only degrade themselves by behaving in that fashion. It only degrades the reputation of the Socialist Party by showing that they do not know how to listen to a careful argument. It is not the good opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite that I seek to gain, but this place is meant to be a place of serious and careful argument. On a great matter of this kind the Socialist Party would not be so restless and distressed if their guilty consciences were not troubling them so. I am sorry to have to take up more time than I meant, but I shall have to repeat myself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I shall not hurry if I am interrupted in that fashion.
In the case of the 24 publicly quoted concerns the compensation represents 75 per cent. of the book value of the net assets. In the case of the nine private companies for which agreements have already been made by the Minister of Supply the compensation represents 162 per cent. of the book value of the net assets.
Let me test this also in relation to profits for the latest year. In the case of the publicly quoted companies referred to, £20 per annum of profits is to be compensated by £100 of Government stock, whereas in the case of the non-quoted companies referred to £20 per annum of profit is to be compensated by almost £200 of Government Stock. I am bound to assume that the Government hold that the agreements of the Minister of Supply have been reached on the basis of fair value, otherwise the Minister would have sent them to arbitration as he has a right to do. But on this assumption the unfair treatment of the publicly quoted companies, with their thousands of small shareholders—quite small people—actuated by private greed, to use the foul term which the Minister of Labour has recently contributed to our discussions, is now fully exposed by the Minister himself. I say, without hesitation, that the public companies and their shareholders have been far more severely treated than the private companies.
1758 What is this new dispensation under which we have now to live, and into which the steel trade is to be plunged? The modern world, with all its varieties, has, I think, produced a no more curious figure than that of the millionaire Socialist, or Socialist millionaire. Here is a type, very rare, but when it appears very potent. We have a type of mentality in the Socialist millionaire which reconciles the most violent denunciation of the capitalist exploitation of the proletariat with the fullest enjoyment of its fruits. There are a few in every country. Herr Krupp, who was and may be again, a millionaire, and was certainly a Nazi Socialist, is a case which springs to the mind. There are some in France, and perhaps some in Italy.
Mr. Hardie, the master of the Government Corporation—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot bear to hear argument. Believe me, people read about all this, and it only does the party opposite harm. Not that I regret it. I only regret it from the point of view of the life of the House of Commons between the two great parties. We know the great responsibility the party opposite has to bear and the great support they have in many quarters.
Mr. Hardie, the master of the Government Corporation set-up to manage the 92 firms now to be nationalised, and inevitably to dominate and derange all the rest of this immense and intricate industry, is certainly one of these rare birds, the millionaire Socialist. We have here a successful business man, a past master of monopoly, who has made an immense fortune by "private greed," and who without in any way relinquishing it has become a convinced Socialist and adherent. His arrogant behaviour as a servant and tool of the Government will certainly be the subject of continuous attention, unless all is swept out of our thoughts either by graver catastrophes, or by new Government decisions, or by a happy release from the needless hardships that are forced upon us.
The head of the Steel Corporation and the Minister of Supply who is to follow me—and I hope I am not exaggerating his fortune—are working together. But here in Britain we have the unique spectacle of two Socialist millionaires, and it really is a record—a brace of these rare birds on the same job. I hope that the 1759 wage-earning masses will be able to look into this as the months pass by, for it really deserves their careful thought. It is always something to hold a world record. We have lost a good many of them in late years, but we have at least created and captured this one—a brace of the same kind, on the same job, one in office and one out.
No wonder the representatives of the toiling millions, as hon. Members opposite like in their dreams to call themselves, the planners of the Socialist welfare state—"fair shares for all"—no wonder they do not want an election in the near future. No wonder the Prime Minister agitates himself about a single vote, and threatens to bring home a Minister from the other end of the world, regardless of what he deems to be in the public interest. At all costs keep away from the people: that is their maxim today. When I survey this story in all its scope and all its viciousness, I cannot at all wonder that it is the prevailing thought of Ministers and followers alike in the party opposite.
The Lord President of the Council referred the other day to the need to end uncertainty about the steel industry. How can the act of vesting, which the House is asked to approve tonight, diminish uncertainty when the political parties opposed to nationalisation had a large majority vote at the last election, and seem almost certain to have a much larger one at the next? I am forced to repeat again that should the Conservative Party be successful in a General Election—which cannot be long delayed however tightly and even passionately Ministers may cling to their offices—we shall at once repeal the Steel Act, and adopt the compromise solution which the Trades Union Congress have themselves set before us. The fate of the steel industry must in any case turn on the vote of the nation and the uncertainty will continue till that vote has been recorded.
We have rarely seen or felt such a stroke of gratuitous, improvident, spite against the whole, long-suffering, faithful community, which bears us all up upon its bruised and lacerated shoulders, as this vesting date of steel nationalisation a week from tomorrow, and the fact that this should be driven through now, in 1760 the hour of danger, is an example of the cynical and spiteful mood in which our affairs are conducted, and which is indeed worthy of the formal censure of the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether you will accept a Motion that "The Question be now put"?
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. G. R. Strauss)
Now that the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has subsided a little, I should like to reply to the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I think that everyone will agree that it was unusually lively, rumbustious and combative, The only surprising thing was that in the course of it he should accuse us of partisan aggression. He did not exactly coo like any sucking dove, and if there was any speech more calculated to aggravate party dissension in this country, I cannot think of it.
Nevertheless, I believe that the House as a whole is tired of these constant debates on the iron and steel industry. There is certainly evidence from the statement issued yesterday by the Liberal Party that they at least are tired of, for on these occasions much heat is generated but nothing new is said; no argument is advanced—certainly none was advanced today—that was not threshed out at length during the passage of the Bill through Parliament.
Today, although the Act has long since been on the Statute Book, although twice within a year this Parliament has decided that it shall be implemented as soon as possible, although many of its provisions are in force and all arrangements have been completed for the smooth transfer of ownership in a week's time, the House is once more asked to rehash the whole business. The only possible explanation can be that the right hon. Gentleman, having been defeated on all previous occasions, hoped that this time the 'flu germs would come to his aid and alter the balance in the Division Lobbies.
The arguments we have advanced have convinced two Parliaments that this 1761 Measure is right and necessary in the public interest—arguments which, in the view of the Government, are stronger today than ever. Therefore I think it would be more fruitful if instead I attempted the more prosaic task of giving the House some account of the way in which the Corporation propose to carry out the duties and responsibilities imposed upon them by Parliament, and the steps which are being taken to harness the steel industry to the requirements of the rearmament programme.
I must first, however, answer one or two of the points which the right hon. Gentleman has made. First, I want to make a comment about his appeal for public unity, or party agreement so far as this is possible; I understand that is what he desires to achieve. The Conservative Party have curious views, which vary from time to time, on what they mean by party unity. In 1914, it will be remembered, they made it a condition of coalition that the Liberal Government of the day should give up its policy of Home Rule for Ireland. In 1916, the Conservative Party made it a condition that the right hon. Gentleman himself should quit the Government. In 1940, when the Labour Party joined the wartime Coalition, they made no conditions, but suggested that it would be desirable at least to amend the Trades Disputes Act. The Conservatives then refused to take any action at all.
Therefore, I do not think that we on this side can be much moved by this plea for inter-party unity until the Conservative Party show evidence of a willingness to give up some of their own prejudices for this cause. The arguments that were adduced by the right hon. Gentleman were mainly those set out in the Amendment—although he went far afield on many occasions. I hope to show to the House that these arguments are fallacious and, if accepted, will have results the reverse of those intended. The Amendment proposes a prolongation of the uncertainty which hangs over the future of the industry, and which could not fail to have damaging consequences, because, obviously, if the vesting date is to be postponed for three, six or nine months the people in the industry will not know where they are.
Through no fault of the Government, too much delay has already occurred, and 1762 some decisions about the development of the industry which should have been taken have not been taken. I should have thought everyone agreed that this state of uncertainty is unsettling and harmful. Indeed, in the Amendment to the Address which was moved by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) last year, the Opposition stated that it was regretted thatthis vital industry will be kept in a state of anxiety and suspense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 474.]Nevertheless today, a year later, on the eve of transfer of ownership and at a time when our national affairs make it particularly important that finality be reached and stability attained, the Opposition ask us to extend still further the period of anxiety and suspense. This would grievously injure the industry and the country, and would be wholly unacceptable to the Government.
What reasons do the Opposition put forward in their Amendment for this postponement? There are two. The first is the record production of the industry, about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke at some length. With it is the implied assumption, for which no evidence is put forward, that such an increase in output can only happen under private ownership. On many occasions my colleagues in the Government and I have paid tribute to the great efforts of the management and men in the industry in stepping up output during the postwar period. Without in any way modifying one's appreciation of their achievement, there are other aspects which should also be borne in mind.
The first is that the re-equipment and enlargement of the industry was necessary not only because little could be done during the war years, but because, until the middle '30's, this great national asset was allowed, under private ownership, to fall into a desperate state of disrepair, with serious consequences to the British economy and to those who worked in the industry. Next, the increase in output during the post-war years was made possible by the Government's policy of giving the industry priority in their economic planning and diverting a substantial part of the national resources to the industry.
§ Mr. Strauss
Another important factor was the abnormal import into Britain of immense quantities of scrap from Germany, amounting to about 2 million tons a year. Finally, a major contribution was the willingness of the steel workers to operate on the basis of a continuous week. There can be no doubt that one of the considerations in their minds, when they agreed to this, was the knowledge that the Government had promised to bring this industry under public ownership—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—and that this Government does not break its promises. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about houses and meat?"] The Iron and Steel Federation has estimated that the continuous working week added three-quarters of a million tons a year to the output of the industry.
The fallacy underlying the whole argument embodied in the Amendment is the implication that output increases under private ownership and not under public ownership. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Members opposite cheer, but there is no ascertainable data on which to base that contention, except party prejudice. If the House prefers, as I am sure it does, to judge on facts rather than fancies, I should like to remind it of the increased generation of electricity since the establishment of the British Electricity Authority. That Authority was set up in April, 1948, and between 1948 and 1950 the quantity of electricity generated increased by 18 per cent. In the same period the steel industry increased its output by 9½ per cent.
§ Mr. Strauss
I think the hon. Member knows that output per man-shift has increased in the coal industry. I am not asking the House to conclude anything from this comparison—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—except that the argument implicit in the Opposition's Amendment that there is something inherent in public ownership which prevents output increasing is patently absurd.
In this connection, I want to say a few words about the production prospects of the iron and steel industry during 1951. 1764 The House should be aware thatthe raw material position in the last few months has developed in a way which must make it doubtful whether a continued increase of production—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—is possible, or at any rate for the time being.I gather from the comments of Members opposite that they question this. I would inform those who are jeering that I am quoting from a statement issued by the Iron and Steel Federation. The major cause of the setback is that great quantities of scrap from Germany which, as I have said, were largely responsible for raising output during recent years, will no longer be available. There is also anxiety about whether we shall be able to import enough iron ore to meet our requirements, particularly in view of the heavy quantities purchased in Europe by the United States, and the expansion of steel production in Germany. I want to warn the House, therefore, not only on my authority, but on that of the Iron and Steel Federation, that in the coming months there is more likely to be a decrease than an increase in production. I want to say this now, before vesting day, otherwise the Conservatives will no doubt allege later that any less favourable production occurring after transfer will be the result of the nationalisation of the industry. I expect them to say it, and that is why I am stating the fact now and quoting my authority for it.
The other argument advanced in the Amendment in favour of postponement is the urgency of the rearmament programme. This is, I agree, a very important consideration, but no reason is given in the Amendment or was given by the right hon. Gentleman—for it cannot be given—why the rearmament programme should suffer in any way by public ownership of the steel industry. Indeed, I should have thought that the presumption was the very opposite, for when the industry is publicly owned there can be no inhibiting conflicts in the minds of directors between the public interest and the interests of the shareholders to whom they are responsible.
Again, I should like to quote, and this time I invite the special attention of Liberal Members to the strictures on the iron and steel industry expressed by the "Manchester Guardian" in 1941 at a critical moment in the war:The steel industry has somehow been unable to put the full power behind the wheels 1765 Its failing is perhaps inherent in an organisation which must balance the interest of its members with those of a nation at war.
§ Mr. Churchill
Is it not a fact that the difficulty with the steel industry in 1941 was because we particularly wanted very high-class and special quality steel made with great rapidity, and the industry was laid out on broader, simpler lines when the war took place? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the article in the "Manchester Guardian" corresponded with the view of what happened to be the case at that time?
§ Mr. Strauss
I know there were many difficulties, not all of them the fault of the industry. I fully agree with that, but I want to draw the attention of the House to the quotation because it comes from an authoritative and balanced source.
It is obvious that the need for the unfortunate balancing of interests mentioned in that quotation is avoided when ownership and the nation are one and indivisible. Indeed, as the House is well aware one of the main purposes in nationalising this great industry is that it should serve the country in peace or in war, undeterred by any conflicting desires in the minds of those who run it to maximise the profits of its private shareholders.
It would be of interest to the House and possibly convince some doubters if I told them what arrangements are being made to ensure that iron and steel serve the defence programme. Here I am replying to a question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It is the Government's policy that whatever shortage of materials there may be, our rearmament orders must be carried out. Difficulties have already been experienced by some firms in getting early delivery of particular types of steel, and we are at present solving these difficulties by ad hoc methods. Discussions have taken place recently between my Ministry, the Corporation and the Iron and Steel Federation to devise effective machinery to overcome such difficulties in the future, when, I fear, they are likely to increase.
With the agreement of the Corporation and the Federation, I am appointing a team acting on behalf of my Department whose responsibility will be to ensure that, as far as practicable, all the iron and steel requirements of the arms 1766 programme will be met, and that necessary production plans will be made to this end. The members of the team will be drawn from both the publicly-owned and privately-owned sectors of the industry. Its chairman will be a director of the Federation and a member of the Corporation will be closely associated with this work.
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes, he is a director of the Iron and Steel Federation; the member of the Corporation who will be associated with it will be General Sir James Steele. All the publicly-owned steel and allied works will be instructed by the Corporation to co-operate fully with the team, and a request to do likewise will be made to those who speak for the privately-owned sector. It may well be that as the programme develops, these arrangements will have to be revised and, if necessary, strengthened.
Fear that the change of ownership in the industry will in any way interrupt the defence programme is wholly without foundation, for not a ton less of molten metal will flow from the furnaces; the same technicians and management will be in control of the works; the existing boards of directors will continue to be responsible.
§ Mr. Churchill
It is important that we should know where we are. Is the existing Iron and Steel Federation executive, a body which has conducted affairs so long, to continue to manage the whole of the industry under the existing authority?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am coming to that in a moment. I was dealing just now with the arrangements which have been made to ensure that the needs of the rearmament programme are married to the production of the iron and steel industry.
As I have said, the necessary machinery has been set up to co-ordinate the production of the industry with our armament programme. It would, in my view, be far more likely to bring confusion to the industry—and certainly demoralise the steelworkers—if, at this stage, the Opposition had their way and left the industry 1767 once more in that state of suspense and anxiety, which they themselves have declared to be deplorable.
The Corporation have discussed with representatives of the Federation on many occasions the organisational problems connected with the transfer of ownership. The Corporation have also told the boards of directors of the companies whose shares they will possess next week the general policy which the Corporation propose to pursue and has invited their co-operation and comment. The House will, no doubt, like to know briefly what this policy is. First, let me make it absolutely clear that, contrary to the stories, which, I presume, have been politically inspired by the opponents of this Measure, there is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that the Corporation want to centralise the administration of the steel industry, or that they want to divest the managements of the steel works of their responsibility. There must, of course, be some central authority otherwise planning becomes impossible.
§ Mr. Summers (Aylesbury)
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say a moment ago that it was not the intention of the Corporation to divest the management of their responsibilities. Would he say why, in the face of that, the Corporation have made it known to companies in the industry that they are concerned with the personal appointments of executives in those companies?
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not think there is anything inconsistent there at all. If a board of directors are making major changes, such as employing people from outside at substantial salaries, or doing something unusual in their organisation, the Corporation ask that they should be informed. I do not think that is unreasonable. Any private holding company would make the same request.
I was saying that there must, of course, be some central control, otherwise planning becomes impossible. There must be a central staff dealing with matters of common interest. Indeed, most of these matters are, in fact, now centralised in the Iron and Steel Federation, who, together with their allied associations, employ about 1,000 people. Some such headquarters must continue, but the policy of the Corporation will be minimum centralisation and maximum devolution. 1768 This, incidentally, is the policy imposed upon them by the very wise Act which Parliament passed some little time ago.
In their letter to the firms they are taking over the Corporation have stressed that—and, here again, I quote—their organisation will be set up on the basis of an industrial and commercial undertaking, operating as a holding company.Later, they say:The Corporation are specially desirous that the individuality of the companies shall be maintained and developed.So much for their general attitude.
I should now like to say a word about their relations with the Federation and the suggestions that have been made to bring about the inevitable and necessary constitutional changes. Incidentally, I would remind the House—I think it important—that the Federation represents mainly firms that are to be publicly owned. Out of 33 people who sit on its Executive Committee today, 30 come from firms being nationalised.
The Corporation recognise that their assumption of responsibility must and can be accomplished without disturbing the smooth functioning of the industry, and they appreciate, moreover, that the new organisation cannot be brought into operation immediately following the date of transfer. They therefore propose that there should be an interim period, which, they hope, will not last more than three months, during which their representatives will attend the meetings, known in the trade as conferences, where the detailed problems affecting each section of the industry are discussed. The recommendations of those conferences, if they affect any other part of the industry, are then considered by the Executive Committee and the Council of the Federation, sitting at Steel House. The Corporation will need their representatives to sit at meetings of this Council, its Executive and other committees and also on the various agencies of the Federation, such as those dealing with the purchase of ore and with research, etc.
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes. I am coming to them in a moment. I think it will be agreed that these are proper and reasonable demands, and the minimum 1769 that will enable the Corporation to carry out the statutory duties, imposed upon them by Parliament. Discussions with the Federation are proceeding now to arrange this. It has already been agreed that the Federation's technical staff should, during this interim period, provide a joint service to the Federation and the Corporation.
During this period, the Corporation will be discussing with representatives of the Federation the long-term arrangements to enable the Corporation to discharge their statutory duties and responsibilities. Their present view, disclosed to the Federation and all the Corporation companies, is that the most effective machinery will be for those conferences in which publicly-owned companies have a predominating interest to report to the Corporation, and that the conferences will appoint an advisory council to the Corporation, with an executive committee. This is only a bare outline of the machinery envisaged, and the Corporation have stressed that their scheme is subject to consultation with the managements of the firms they are taking over and with everyone interested.
Moreover, the Corporation have gone out of their way to emphasise their concern that the private sector of the industry should be specially considered and that its interests must be adequately represented and protected in whatever organisation is ultimately set up.
§ Mr. Churchill
I want to get this position clear. There is the Iron and Steel Federation, which has managed all these firms under Government control and which is managing them at this moment. It is going on managing them in the future; not for ever, but in the indefinite future with no date assigned for taking matters out of its hands. Will it be able to continue managing the steel industry, that is to say, the existing executive of the Iron and Steel Board?
§ Mr. Strauss
Within certain limits. During the interim period the Federation and their staff will continue their present function—co-ordinating activities, and so on. The Corporation are asking that their representatives should sit on these co-ordinating committees during the interim period, when discussions will be taking place on the final organization 1770 of the industry. Even during the interim period the Corporation are not legally able to divest themselves of the responsibility for the industry which has been placed upon them by the Act.
§ Mr. Churchill
There is, of course, the Iron and Steel Federation, which is doing the work. I understand that it is to go on doing the work. Then there is the Ministry of Supply, which will have great control, including the fixing of prices. There can be no profiteering on the rearmament drive and there ought not to be. In the final picture, somewhere out in the air, there is this Corporation, with Mr. Hardie at its head. Is that the picture?
§ Mr. Strauss
No, I do not think that the picture given by the right hon. Gentleman is quite a fair one. We had better leave it at the one I have given, which is accurate, perfectly clear, and simple.
Hon. Members may ask why the long-term arrangements have not been completed, so that the House and the industry could know, as indeed they ought to know, the complete pattern of the new organisation. I, too, regret that it is not possible to put a fuller picture before the House, but this is no fault of the Corporation's. They have been anxious to settle the new headquarters organisation as quickly as possible; it was obviously in everybody's interest that this should be done. At the same time, they were equally anxious not to modify the present structure of the industry without the greatest possible co-operation with the leaders of the industry.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the Federation have not been very forthcoming so far, and this, I am certain, is due, at least in part, to the belief, fostered by the Opposition's refusal to accept the democratic decision of Parliament, that somehow or other the Act would never be implemented. I sincerely hope, however, that the attitude of the leaders of the industry will change after vesting day and that consultations will then take place in a really co-operative spirit.
I do, in this connection, particularly deprecate the sneering remarks which were made by the right hon. Gentleman today and which have come from other leaders of the Conservative Party, about 1771 members of the Corporation. What service do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues consider they are doing the industry by inflaming those who work in it, to depise those men upon whom Parliament has put the responsibility of ensuring the industry's prosperity? However keenly the right hon. Gentleman may hold the view that Parliament's decision to transfer the industry from private to public ownership was unwise, that decision has been taken, and now the supreme national interest is that the industry shall flourish. Conversely, it is a bad service to the national interest to do as the right hon. Gentleman has done today—try to undermine the authority of the Corporation by perpetuating among those in the industry dissension based upon party passions. I hope that the Opposition will now, at last, cease sacrificing the public interest to Conservative dogma.
I am entitled to add this: It really ill becomes the right hon. Gentleman to suggest, as he did today, that those who are to carry out the onerous duties of the Corporation have little or no experience of the working of the steel industry. It is not true of two of them—[Laughter.]
§ Mr. Strauss
He does not come from the steel industry. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will wait until he hears what I have to say before he laughs. Two of them have considerable experience of the steel industry. It will be remembered that the Federation spokesmen refused my request that they should suggest to me the names of leading people in the industry to serve on the Corporation. Indeed, they told me that they would inform those who contemplated joining the Corporation that if they did so, they would forfeit the respect of the industry.
I have reason to believe that this attitude is now regretted by most responsible people in the industry nevertheless, it was approved by the Conservative Party although it was obvious that it could only have one of two consequences. If the Government had bowed to the threat and not proceeded with the Bill, then a Parliamentary decision would have been successfully thwarted by outside interests. If we refused to bow to this threat because we believed that this 1772 House and not Steel House should be supreme, then the effect of their refusal would be to deprive the Corporation of the assistance of a number of people experienced in steel-making, with consequent injury to the industry.
This is the reprehensible and, in my view, unpatriotic policy which is approved by the Conservative Party—approved by them, not by us—and they are, therefore, the last people who have any right to complain, as the right hon. Gentleman did today, about the results of the policy which they support. I particularly deprecate the attack on the Chairman of the Corporation. It seems very peculiar for the Conservative Party to attack a man because he has been successful in business. I should have thought that that was just the sort of man they would like, and that if we had chosen a man who had no business experience or who had not been successful in business, we should have been severely criticised by the right hon. Gentleman.
In spite of the violent and partisan spirit which the right hon. Gentleman engendered in the debate today, I make an earnest appeal, even now, to him and his supporters and to all those in responsible positions in the steel industry. Nothing but harm can come to the industry and the nation by rekindling at this stage the flames of party controversy which have surrounded the whole question. Cannot everybody concerned accept the fact that the Act of Parliament is on the Statute Book and that two Parliaments have been elected with majorities that have been pledged to bring the industry under public ownership as quickly as possible?
The decision has been taken, and the Government would be not only betraying their principles and their supporters but making a mockery of Parliament if they did not implement the Act. The need to rearm, so far from weakening the case for nationalisation, strengthens it and makes it imperative to proceed quickly. There will be no dislocation of production. There need be no disruption of the industry, except in so far as the party opposite succeed in keeping alive and stimulating party rancour.
I believe that the great majority of those engaged in iron and steel production today, whether they approve or disapprove the change of ownership, have 1773 a deep loyalty to the industry and a desire to continue to serve it under the new regime to the best of their opportunity and ability. It has been constitutionally determined that this great venture shall be launched, and it is now the duty of everyone in the House to combine to ensure it a smooth and successful voyage.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The fresh assurances which the Minister has given this afternoon will have to be carefully studied. The right hon. Gentleman delivered that part of his speech rather rapidly. As I understand it, the existing Federation and its committees will be given a further period of grace of three months in which to accommodate themselves to the change-over but, at the same time, the representatives of the Corporation will be entitled to sit at their deliberations. This concession—if I may call it that—will, as I have said, have to be carefully studied, but my first impression is that it is not a very considerable concession and will not help very much in bringing together the two divergent points of view.
I was interested in the Minister's assurances about the stories which have been appearing in the Press about an over-centralised bureaucracy, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has, in effect, reiterated the various undertakings which he or his colleagues gave during the Committee stage, particularly with regard to his intention to maintain competition between the various units, on trademarks, and also on decentralisation. I also understand that each board of directors will be entitled to spend up to £100,000 on capital expenditure without requiring the sanction of the Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman also said that it is not his intention to disturb existing boards, although he added that the Corporation would require to receive notification of any executive changes.
That is all to the good, but it will all have to be carefully studied. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman—he was reminded of this over and over again during the Committee stage, and I hope that he will constantly bear it in mind—that it is with this House, through the Minister and in the annual debates which we shall have on the industry, that the final control must rest and not with Mr. 1774 Hardie or any other person who may be appointed as the Chairman of the Corporation.
In less than four months we shall have had two debates on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has again stated his opposition to the Act, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has again defended it from that Box. I think it is unfortunate at this time, to say the least, when, apparently, the country and also the House are divided upon the issue. I say "unfortunate at this time" because we want 100 per cent. total effort in the country, unity and co-operation, to try to secure international peace. [Interruption.] Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, it is no good blinking the fact that the House and the country are still divided upon this issue. A half-and-half industry cannot survive great demands made upon it, just as a half-and-half nation cannot survive this world crisis. For my part—I have taken a great deal of interest in the Act; constructive interest, I hope—I believe that only compromise and inquiry can solve the problem. I have come to that conclusion. Even if we have 20 General Elections and 20 more debates in the House, I do not believe that we shall get agreement and unity unless we can get some form of compromise and inquiry.
What will be the position of the industry eight days from now? It is faced with the responsibility for a vast rearmament programme. It has to handle large-scale Government orders, probably bigger than ever before in the history of peace-time industry. In many respects, the only real and effective customer of the industry will be the Government and its various Departments. We shall have a very severe system of priority allocation in operation. We shall probably see the transfer of labour from consumer goods industries to defence industries. We may see the mobilisation of factories and machine tools. In other words we may see the end of laissez faire in this industry in our time, completely, absolutely and finally. That is the position with which we have to deal.
I should like to remind my hon. Friends above the Gangway that in this large programme, this enormous effort to which I have referred, the full co- 1775 operation of all the workers, executives, managers and technicians is required even if a Conservative Government is in power, if it is to be carried out. Therefore, in my view we shall never successfully achieve that unless we can reach some compromise between the two points of view, unless the industry is at peace with itself. The history of this industry in the past 20 years—I do not wish to indulge in references to it of a partisan character—has not always been of a satisfactory nature. I can remember 20 years of it in this House and the various shortcomings of this industry and the Government assistance it has received. That is why my hon. Friends and I have put on the Order Paper an Amendment insisting that there should be effective control of its policies. I am sorry that the Lord President of the Council is not here, because I should like to talk to him about this: he takes a great interest in the technique of these nationalised industries. This is a new one.
We do not yet know the successful technique for running, in the modern world, these various monopolies, whether public or private. We have not yet found it out, here or in other countries we have certainly not found out the correct way to run the nationalised industries and the various techniques for doing so. It took a long time to find out the way to run the Post Office. I am sure that the Lord President of the Council would agree with that statement. I have been reading the report of the last debate in the House on this subject, and the statement of Mr. Lincoln Evans, which has again been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition today, and his suggestion of a statutory board.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the point of view expressed by Mr. Lincoln Evans is the accredited point of view of the executive of the union of which he is General Secretary, or of the T.U.C., or whether it is a personal expression of opinion?
§ Mr. Granville
I am not in a position to give the correct answer to that question. I am merely quoting from the Report in HANSARD of the last debate, when the Leader of the Opposition read from a document which I understood had 1776 been presented to the T.U.C. by Mr. Lincoln Evans, and was now an official document of the T.U.C.
§ Mr. Albu (Edmonton)
Will the hon. Gentleman look at that document? If he does so he will find that it does not refer to the steel industry at all.
§ Mr. Granville
For the purposes of my argument it does not make the slightest difference whether it refers to the steel industry or to civil aviation. I am saying that although this industry is to be taken over eight days from now, the Government have not yet devised the effective technique in the conduct and relationship of the nationalised industries to our general economy. The whole set-up is in its infancy. The statement to which I have referred was made by a person who has some sort of experience and authority, and who presumably is not entirely repudiated by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). I call Mr. Lincoln Evans to my aid. He has thought this matter out and he says, "Do not let there be any water-tight compartment in respect of the conduct of nationalised industries." I believe that he has made a suggestion for a statutory board which the Government should consider as the kind of board which might well run this industry.
During the Second Reading debate on the Measure nationalising this industry my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made a proposal that there should be an inquiry. The question is entirely one of whether this inquiry should be held before the vesting day, before the ordinary shares become steel stock or whether that can be done afterwards. There has to be an investigation, there has to be experience and trial and error to discover the best way of working. I should have thought that, all things considered, the Government have enough on their plate to make existing nationalised industries efficient, and would have welcomed some method of compromise on the control of the particular industry which we are discussing, I hope, for the last time today.
I appeal to the Prime Minister—my hon. Friends and I have been constructive upon these subjects and in the debates in the House of Commons; we have not acted in a partisan sense—for a last-minute compromise upon this matter. I 1777 should like to see him set up a body comprising representatives of the new Corporation, including Mr. Hardie, and the existing Iron and Steel Federation, the trade unions which have direct experience in this industry, and the consumers and users to work out a five-year or 10-year programme of re-organisation and expansion for this industry. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late hour, to give consideration to this proposal. As I have said, we cannot get very far in this vast programme in the interests of peace unless we have agreement and unity, and I hope that whoever is to reply to the debate will tell us that the Government will give at least their consideration to this serious suggestion.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham)
Is that suggestion meant to be in substitution for the implementation of the Act?
§ Mr. Granville
Yes. I have considered very carefully whether the compromise should be made on the basis of the change-over or whether the existing stock is left as it is and the status quo in that respect maintained.
My view is that the difficulties of reaching agreement are so great if the actual stock change-over is made the basis, that I think the right hon. Gentleman would have to extend the period of three months he has announced to a much longer period; but, of course, at the same time he would have all the effective controls he requires. Let him make them really effective and efficient controls, not quite the same as we had during the war. Let them be made completely as an instrument of policy, particularly as considerable armament orders and large-scale Government orders will be involved. Let the Minister have all that kind of arrangement and qualifications he requires, and have everyone represented on the controlling authority—consumers, users, unions, the Iron and Steel Federation and the new Corporation. Give them a five-year or 10-year programme of reorganisation for this industry, bearing in mind all the valuable experience which we have gained in recent years since the beginning of the first nationalisation Act. I am sure that this proposal would give far better results.
The Liberal Party has made its position absolutely clear in regard to iron and steel. 1778 While it is not quite expressed in the language of the official Opposition Amendment this afternoon, we were opposed to the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, and we said so at the last election. Our Amendment suggests that a huge monopoly, living to a certain extent on armaments and Government orders, must be controlled in the national interest. At the same time we regard this issue as a closed issue during the lifetime of this Parliament, and we are quite frankly prepared to face the consequences of our vote in the House tonight, whether it means a General Election or not. We gave pledges, we shall stand by them, and we shall vote tonight; and we shall face the country confident in the knowledge that this small party, holding very much the balance in this precarious Parliament, on this occasion again placed, first and foremost, not the interests of party but those of the nation.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
As this is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address the House, I must ask for the usual indulgence and sympathy of hon. Members. I am sure that all hon. Members realise that the hesitancy of a maiden speaker is a very real thing indeed; hesitancy, one might almost say, is an understatement of the way a maiden speaker feels. Conscious of the traditions of this occasion, I have chosen to speak in this very non-controversial debate. I have been inspired by hon. Members on both sides of the House in their appeals for unity at this time, and I believe that a great deal of unity of opinion is possible on both sides of the House over a great many of the issues we have to discuss this evening.
I detect in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition three distinct ideas. First, it is a fundamental challenge of the wisdom of the last Parliament in passing the Steel Nationalisation Act. Secondly, it suggests that fresh evidence has come to light which should lead this House to reconsider its decision. Thirdly, in the wording of this Amendment, in which I note a trace of pained surprise, there is an implication that the Government have somehow or other behaved rather badly in this matter. I would like to deal, if 1779 I may, as non-controversially as I can with those three propositions.
I do not want to deal at any great length with the main case of hon. Members on this side of the House for nationalisation, for the arguments are well known to all hon. Members. However, it is necessary to recapitulate them briefly so as to be able to see whether, in fact, the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment is likely in any way to alter the necessity for this decision. Curiously enough, it is on the basic issues of nationalisation that the greatest agreement is possible on both sides of the House. Hon. Members on this side and hon. Members opposite are united in their agreement that this is a basic industry, that the health of this industry, the investment policy of this industry, the development of this industry in the future are absolutely fundamental to our economic life and to our standard of living. There can be no disagreement about that.
Nor, I submit, can there be any disagreement on the nature of the present organisation of the industry. I do not want to press this point too much. I do not want to use the word "monopoly" in reference to this industry, because I do not want to be controversial. But I do think that hon. Members on both sides must agree that in the past this industry has shown a marked aversion, to put it mildly, to the workings of the competitive market both at home and abroad, and that it could hardly be described as the sort of industry which would make the classical economists smile with pride—if classical economists were ever known to smile. On these points, then, I submit there is universal agreement: it is an important industry and the control of it is in a limited number of hands. The point on which we disagree is the way in which this power should be controlled.
It is significant—significant, I would suggest, of the result of five years' political education since 1945—that nobody in the House today has suggested that there is no need for any control whatsoever. To do so would be to suggest that there was no likelihood of any divergence of interest between the industry and the people of this country. Certainly such 1780 a suggestion involves an optimism which it would be hard to justify. On the contrary, hon. Members on both sides have stressed that there is a need for some degree of supervision. In accepting that, the point is immediately made that there may be in the future, as there has certainly been in the past, a divergence between the interest of the industry and the interests of the nation. Our problem tonight—indeed, the problem which was being considered throughout the last Parliament when this Measure was under consideration—is how such a supervision can be made effective.
I realise that analogies are dangerous, but there is one analogy which is as simple as it is instructive when we are considering the question of making supervision effective. It is the analogy with the present Parliamentary situation. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench are making sustained efforts to supervise the policy of the Government. They find this supervision difficult because the political power in the country rests with my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. Similarly with the iron and steel industry, it is difficult to organise effective supervision over an industry when the real power lies, as in this particular case, with the shareholders. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite, if I may be so presumptuous, that the solution of their Parliamentary difficulties lies in a return to power at a General Election. There could be no dispute on the solution of their difficulties in that case, and there can be no dispute on the solution of our difficulties in this matter. If we are to make supervision effective, we must have control over the sources of the power in the industry, and this lies with the shareholders in the industry.
So much for this substantial case. I apologise to the House for recalling it, except that it is worth keeping it in mind when considering the fresh evidence adduced in this Amendment. The first piece of fresh evidence adduced is the record production in the industry. I, along with many of my hon. Friends, regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not devote more attention to the efforts of the steel workers in this connection. There are, however, many hon. Members on this side of the House who are better 1781 able to speak of that than I am. The point I want to make is a simple one: that the steel industry since 1945 has been working in what it is quite fair to call a sunny economic climate.
In this connection I should like to say a word about my predecessor, Sir Stafford Cripps. No one did more than he to bring about the economic recovery of this country since 1945. He, and those who worked with him, brought this country through the difficulties that faced it without many of the instabilities which arose from different policies, both in the United States and in Western Europe.
One of the major reasons of the success of the steel industry since 1945 was that it enjoyed, in the opinion of our British businessmen, a sustained justification for optimism about the future. I would, of course, only take this information from businessmen themselves. Hon. Members who doubt this, have only to read the annual reports of the company chairmen—that is, the business parts of their reports, and not the political parts—to see that the industry as a whole has benefited immensely through the sound economic planning of the Government. I do not underrate the value of American help—how could I when I am married to an American girl?—but I suggest that the success of the steel industry is much more a vindication of the Government's economic policy than a measure of the soundness of the present basis of ownership.
The second piece of evidence adduced was on rearmament. The part that the industry has to play in the rearmament drive simply underlines its importance, and therefore we on this side, to say the least, have every right to argue that as the industry is likely to be even more vital in the years ahead. We have even more right to believe that it should be in public hands. Also there are specific problems involved in rearmament, and it is upon these that I should like to focus the attention of the House.
First, there is the fact that the high demand for the products of the industry would tend to push considerations of costs and efficiency into the background if the industry were in private hands. The interests of the shareholders in this respect would be likely to diverge from the interests of the Government. We saw after the First World War—I say "we 1782 saw," but that is a politician's phrase: I was not born at that period—a similar situation, and we cannot afford to allow the demands made on the steel industry at present to result in its getting behind with its modernisation and development projects. Coupled with the need for a balanced programme is the need also for a proper system of supervision, which, I have tried to suggest, can be achieved only by public ownership.
There is also an important psychological factor. Owing to the curious nature of the industry, the fact that its units of production are of widely differing degrees of efficiency, and because of the complications of the price structure in the industry, there is at least the possibility that high profits will be made in the years during which the rearmament programme is under way. At a time when there is a very real threat to our standard of living, it would be psychologically disastrous to have an iron and steel industry which was doing very well indeed from a business point of view. [Interruption.] That was put badly. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I submit that the point itself is valid.
The last point with which I should like to deal is the implication in the Amendment that the Government have in some way behaved badly. We on this side are a Socialist Party—we have been for some time. We have never made any secret of the fact. In 1945, when our election programme was published, we made no secret of it, and if any members of the electorate failed to read our election programme, they had only to listen to the Leader of the Opposition to realise that we were a Socialist Party. Everyone on this side pays tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his valiant work in informing the electorate of the intentions of the Labour Party.
The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1948, and was debated throughout the following year. After some disagreements in another place, a compromise was agreed which seemed, to say the least, to be very fair to the critics of the Bill. Finally, the Bill was enacted. The people and their steel were married, after what, I suggest, was a long period of not very reputable cohabitation—if I may misquote the marriage vows—"For better for worse, for richer or poorer, until the advent of the Conservative 1783 Government doth us part." Moreover, it should be remembered that "That which Parliament hath joined together, let no man put asunder." This, surely, has some relevance to the Amendment which is before the House. That is the case which we put from this side.
We have learnt some lessons from this controversy. We have learnt that when one is up against the steel "bosses" it may not be as easy to get one's way as was thought. I believe that the whole history of this controversy is a final justification for our refusal to accept mere control. We have also tasted the political ambitions of economic power, and we shall not forget that either.
There seem to me to be two ways of dealing with the industry. One is an entirely new way, which nobody has actually suggested but which, I believe, is implied in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition; that is, for an entirely new form of public accountability, based on a constantly postponed plan of nationalisation, in which the work of the industry would be regularly surveyed by Parliament on Motions of Censure. That is one way in which it has been suggested that we could retain our ideological security and hon. Members opposite could retain their position of power. I do not think it is a very satisfactory solution, and therefore, with continued diffidence but with no hesitation now, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
It falls to me, as the next hon. Member to speak, to congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) on a most admirable and able speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] On this occasion I should like to couple the Socialist Party with my congratulations on having obtained an extremely helpful and forceful recruit. Another reason why I am so glad that it falls to me to be able to congratulate the hon. Member is that I am old enough to have sat in the House for a good many years with his father. It makes me feel uncommonly old to see the hon. Member sitting on the benches opposite looking as his father did then, and, indeed, as his father does now.
1784 All of us, no matter in which part of the House we sit, put one thing above everything else—that is, the position of the House of Commons as a great assembly. Every time we hear somebody make a maiden speech which convinces us that the House will gain by the hon. Member's presence and that the hon. Member will rise to positions of responsibility—it is all the more refreshing to have such sane remarks from a Socialist point of view and made by so young a Member of Parliament—we are given great hopes for the future.
Not only does the hon. Member possess his father's gift of language, but he also has his courage. Very few Members, during my time in Parliament, at any rate, would have got up to make their maiden speech, which is supposed to be noncontroversial, in a debate of this sort, which the hon. Member, I am glad to know, thinks will be controversial but very placid. I am sure that all of us on this side, although we differ profoundly with him in our political views, will look upon the hon. Member as a colleague for whom we have great respect and whose future we shall all gladly cheer as he goes up the ladder of success in the House.
The hon. Member made certain references to the reasons for this debate, and I want to deal with one or two matters which have caused me a great deal of worry and anxiety. Nobody has mentioned so far today what effect the Iron and Steel Act will have on the machinery of government. I think it very important that this debate should not be allowed to pass without some mention of that. The Ministry of Supply is now an enormous Department, a Department which is primarily concerned with great responsibility for the adequate defence of this country. In the last war there were no fewer than three Departments, if not four, doing the work which is now being attempted by the Ministry of Supply—being attempted and being accomplished in certain ways, I must say, with great success, because there are some extraordinarily able men working in the Ministry of Supply as advisers to the Minister. I regret very much that this controversy has arisen because I should have thought it was so simple, even for those who are supporting the nationalisation of iron and steel, to recognise that this impending event has indeed cast its 1785 shadow before and it has led to a very great many difficulties in the country. Therefore, I believe that this Amendment is justified from the point of view that unnecessary difficulties are being created at the present time.
The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) said he thought an inquiry should take place. I think there have been quite enough inquiries, but there is this to be said; it is quite obvious from what the Minister told the House that the present Corporation do want to work in contact with those who really know the industry, and everyone recognises that, whatever the reasons, the Corporation cannot proclaim that it does possess all the knowledge of the steel industry which is necessary to enable it to function. Therefore, we were all glad to learn that, recognising that fact and realising the dangers of the national position, there is to be close co-operation between the Federation and the Corporation out of which something useful will come.
I regret, and I say quite definitely I bitterly regret, that the vesting date has not been postponed to a later period to allow that co-operation which is so necessary if we are to get a smooth change-over. I really do not see that the Government need fear anything. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he recognises that nationalisation is Government policy; it is a question of the selection of the time to do it. The vesting date should have been postponed, at any rate for those three months which, in the Minister's opinion, is the minimum period necessary for a "get-together" or a "know how" which at the present time is so necessary from the Corporation's point of view.
I have a little experience of what happens to people when an industry with which they are associated is nationalised. The differences between the iron and steel industry and the railway industry is that all the directors in iron and steel are to remain, whereas all the directors concerned with the railways were dismissed. I congratulate the iron and steel industry on keeping their directors, and I hope the change will be all the easier because the Government have reversed the previous policy.
I want to support the Minister in one particular. I went to Germany with the 1786 Estimates Committee and we knew the amount of scrap coming over known as "booty scrap," which made all the difference to the iron and steel industry here. It is not sufficient merely to regret the fact that the industry will not have the iron and steel scrap which it is vital it should have. We should do more to get scrap wherever it may be found in this country—which is not now being done—in order to produce the amount of steel necessary for the rearmament programme.
I now turn to the organisation of the Ministry of Supply. I have here a Report of the Committee which considered the set-up of the Ministry of Supply in 1946. We had evidence then from one of the ablest men who has ever served a British Government, Sir Oliver Franks, who is now Ambassador in Washington and the man who took over the administration of and reconstituted the Ministry of Supply immediately after the war. I suggest that the House would not do ill by reading the evidence of Mr. Oliver Franks, as he then was, in April, 1946, when he laid down what the right organisation of the Ministry of Supply was in peace-time.
There are 18 departments of the Ministry of Supply at present—18 different departments. It has a most enormous task. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister with his Parliamentary Secretary; there is the whole of the work which the old Board of Munitions had, all the work of the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the work of the Ministry of Production. That was superimposed on this Department. In a situation of great gravity, where everything should be concentrated on the rearmament programme, we must all be concerned with the time it takes for a file to go through an office as big as that, unless some form of devolution can be devised. Not only is the right hon. Gentleman responsible for all that enormous amount of work, but the whole of the work in connection with atomic energy is on his shoulders, and now he is to be responsible for iron and steel.
I suggest that when this Act comes into full force, it would be worth while to see how far we can adopt the machinery of Government in this particular, so that the process of supervision and control can be more readily carried out without, 1787 in fact, breaking down the Minister and the officials who work under him. We must see that the difficulties of the rearmament programme are surmounted and the task of the officials at the Ministry of Supply simplified. It is not possible for the Ministry of Supply as at present constituted to carry out the functions which are necessary if we are to get the rearmament programme put into force as quickly as possible.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
May I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgewood Benn) on the very brilliant and telling speech he made? I ought to warn him at this stage that perhaps the next time he speaks, in spite of the diffidence he expressed, he will not get such an easy time from the Opposition, but that will be a tribute to the merit of his maiden speech.
Today we are witnessing what is, I hope, the last-ditch fight by the Opposition to prevent the implementation of an Act of Parliament. It seems clear that the Liberals, at any rate, accept this, whatever the result, as the final stage, and I am quite certain, after the thoughtful speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), that he would be prepared to accept this decision as final and do his best to see that there is proper co-operation between all the parties concerned in the decision. I hope I am not misinterpreting him.
On the surface, this Amendment is dealing mainly with the vesting date—the Opposition are asking for a postponement of the vesting date. I think we would be very foolish if on this side of the House we allowed ourselves to be beguiled into thinking they were being very reasonable about it and only asking for two months, three months, or six months, whatever the period is, because it seems to me that the main question they are raising is not merely the postponement of the vesting date, but a complete reversal of policy on this issue.
Were we to postpone it for two months, six months, one year or whatever it was, we should find at the end of that time, not an acceptance by the Opposition of this Nationalisation Act, but a Motion of Censure whenever we sought to fix 1788 the vesting date. The really important thing is that the longer we put off the vesting date, the more uncertain things are, and the more unlikely it is that the steel people, the directors and so on, will be willing to co-operate with the Corporation to make a success of this vital industry.
In his speech the Leader of the Opposition tried to portray the Prime Minister as the main stumbling block to national unity, and indeed to national safety. In contrasting his speech with that of the Minister of Supply, it is quite clear, I think, to any fair, unprejudiced person where is the real threat to national unity. It certainly is not on this side of the House. After this Bill has been passed in the last Parliament; agreed to and accepted by the people in two elections; decided in a debate on the Address last year, and again in September, we are still being asked to give the Opposition another chance to let the people have their say, and, as they hope, reject this Act. But that is reducing the Constitution of this country to something like a farce, whereby the Government are to be allowed to operate only by kind permission of the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, we cannot tolerate that situation for one moment.
We on this side of the House are asked, "What sacrifices are you prepared to make in the interests of national unity?" I think it is time that question was put the other way round. The Leader of the Opposition should ask himself and his party what sacrifices they are prepared to make in the interests of national unity. It would be a good idea if tonight some of the Opposition spokesmen could tell us what they would be. The Leader of the Opposition made great play with the question of the university seats. Had they not been abolished in the last Parliament, by Act of Parliament, the Opposition would have had a majority of, roughly, five seats in this House—something similar to what we have tonight. I ask the Opposition if in those circumstances, with a majority of five only, they would then have proceeded to repeal the Iron and Steel Act? If they would, it makes nonsense of their claim today that we must not implement it because we have only a majority of five; and it reveals the hollowness of the whole case put forward by the Opposition.
1789 The other main point of this Amendment is the fear of disruption in this great industry. After the speech of my right hon. Friend, we must all agree that that fear is absolutely unreal. So far as the workers are concerned—and many of my hon. Friends could speak about them better than I can—there is no fear of disruption. Nor is there any such fear among the technicians. They are not interested in the politics of this matter to the exclusion of all other things. They are people mainly born in the job, brought up in steel during the whole of their lives, and their concern is to make a success of their job. So far as many executives of firms are concerned, I do not believe they would be prepared not to co-operate in making this a success after 15th February.
But there are a few people at the very top who have identified themselves with this political struggle who may, of course, go; and if they do, I do not think they will be any great loss to us. I do not think they will impede production in any way whatever. It may be that, knowing this, the people who have been most vehement in their opposition may change their minds when they see that on 15th February the vesting date becomes an established fact. I myself am certain there will be no topsy-turvy change in this industry through implementation of the vesting date in this Act—
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
May I interrupt the hon. Member? I am following his argument, but is he prepared to say that under nationalisation he expects production to increase?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am proposing to deal with that point. I will make this claim, that it will not be less than it would be under private ownership. At the present time there are limiting factors of production about which the hon. Member knows, and with which I shall deal in a moment. But the mere change of ownership will not affect the physical set-up in any way whatsoever. As my right hon. Friend said, not one ton less of molten metal will flow as a result of this change-over of ownership.
We have been gibed at about some underground arrangement between the different wings of this party. I can only deny that, from my own knowledge of the party, which I think is greater than that of the Leader of the Opposition. We are 1790 concerned at this stage merely in putting into effect the terms of an Act of Parliament: and foreign affairs and all these other matters which he mentioned do not enter into it for one moment. We know this has been settled, not once but twice, at election time and in various debates in this House—
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
The hon. Member says that this question was settled twice at the poll. The first time, if steel was as important as it seems, it had an overwhelming majority. Then, when the country had a chance to speak again, it sent back the Government with such a tiny majority that it was forced to drop all its stages of further nationalisation. Yet the hon. Gentleman says this was the second indication. I say it was a refusal and a reversal of what had happened before.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
The answer to that surely is that we are on this side of the House as the Government, and the hon. Member's party is on that side as the Opposition. In his constituency, which I believe is close to London, the issue may not have been raised, but on Teesside, where my constituency is, it was a vital issue—a major part of our election programme—and we were returned to implement it in this House.
I am glad that once again in this debate we have been given an opportunity to make it clear to the House and the country that we are not to be blackmailed into giving way to pressure by vested interests, and that we are not to be blackmailed into giving up an Act of Parliament properly passed in the previous Parliament. I am satisfied—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
What does the hon. Member mean by "blackmailed." May I suggest that that is rather an unfortunate expression to use?
§ Mr. Chetwynd
There was an attack by the Leader of the Opposition upon the integrity of the Minister of Supply, intended to belittle him in the eyes of the nation and consequently to ruin our chances of making a success of this Act. I think that is a form of blackmail.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Is it in order to describe a speech by my right hon. Friend as "blackmail"? I think that is far outside the realm of Parliamentary propriety, and I suggest that the hon. Member is out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I think it is a word that we do not like in this House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not use it.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I shall be perfectly happy to withdraw it. I think the general implication was made—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I withdraw the word "blackmailed." But there are pressure groups at work, and have been all along over the past five years, to get this Act of Parliament withdrawn. I think that is fairly well known. It is no use putting all these arguments in the guise of appeals to national unity. If the Opposition would come out and say, "We represent sections and groups that want this Act repealed," web and good. But when it is clothed in words like "national unity" and "national safety," that alters the position completely.
I am satisfied that the political case for this Act is strengthened by the present situation. My right hon. Friend made it clear that, so far from the rearmament drive suffering by this, it should be made much more easy to implement; and the more certain we shall be of geting the right kind of steel in the quantities we require. It would be better for the Opposition to co-operate with the Government instead of nagging away at them the whole of the time, which is what they are doing.
I reinforce what my right hon. Friend said about the future of this industry, and this has a bearing on what was said by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). We all know there is a shortage of scrap. We all know there is a shortage of iron ore and a shortage of coke. It is more than likely that the present increase in the supplies of steel cannot be maintained. It is right, therefore, at this stage to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply what steps the Corporation, in conjunction with the industry, are taking to relieve those shortages so that the maximum of production can be obtained.
I should have thought that the right policy was to co-operate with all these people to see that we get the maximum production. The main policy of the Opposition on this matter has been to delay this change in the hope that perhaps fortune at an election would favour them and they could repeal the Act. This 1792 affects the smooth working of the Corporation. If, once again, we ask why it is that the Corporation has not been able to proceed as rapidly as we should like, we are bound to be driven to the conclusion that the main reason is that the Iron and Steel Federation themselves have refused their full co-operation.
We cannot really expect to get much co-operation from these people until this Act is finally decided and settled. In my view, that will take place on 15th February. All of us must agree from that date that, if the members of the Iron and Steel Federation have the real interests of the country at heart, they will change their attitude and co-operate fully with the Government. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). He said that the country is divided on this issue and nothing can alter that fact. That is absolutely right. The country is divided on this issue and all the appeals in the world cannot alter that one fact.
But I believe that, recognising that and accepting the policy of the Government in this matter, we can go forward with the maximum possible amount of unity to prepare for rearmament, if necessary, and to make the fullest and best use of the steel industry in the national interest. I also agree that it is, and would be, impossible to compromise on this issue. Compromise, such as the hon. Member for Eye desired, is quite impossible with this industry. One cannot divorce public control from ownership. All the efforts to do that, so far, in the last resort have been negative, and when a real issue has arisen the attempts of the Iron and Steel Board have failed.
I conclude by saying that I am satisfied that after 15th February there will be no disruption and no dislocation, and that my right hon. Friend can then add to his hoard people who, after that date, will be willing to serve and who have the best qualifications. If the Opposition will recognise that this is an accomplished fact and stop playing politics with it, stop encouraging these people to hope that one day they will be returned and the whole thing will be upset, we can look forward to a better state of affairs in the industry.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
Before the hon. Member sits down[HON. MEMBERS: "He has sat down."] 1793 I listened very carefully to him and I could not understand under what basis of nationalisation he reckoned that there would be any benefit either by way of more production or lower price. Therefore, why does he advocate nationalisation at all?
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
The burden of the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) has been that there will be no disruption of the steel industry because of nationalisation, and that after 15th February the industry will go on more swimmingly and more flourishingly than ever before. I should like to give one or two reasons why I think there will be disruption and dislocation. Let us take, first, the question of raw materials mentioned both by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees and by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply. I confess that I admire the transparent innocence with which both have sketched an alibi for the Corporation. I am sure that the Corporation is grateful to them for their obviousness.
I do not deny that the act of vesting coincides with an aggravated difficulty—the difficulty of securing raw materials. But that fact does not palliate the wrongfulness of the act of vesting. It aggravates it because, if vesting takes place on 15th February, men's minds, both in the Corporation and in the Federation, will not be giving undivided attention to the question of securing raw materials. It emerged from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that they will be distracted with an organisational question, with the problem of inventing new machinery and new arrangements for doing something which, so far, has been done effectively. That is the penalty of 15th February.
Both the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees and the Minister claim that this Act will help the rearmament programme. Again, I differ from them. I should like to remind the House of what it did when it passed this Act. It was attempting, in nationalising the steel industry, to cut out something from a most intricate manufacturing mosaic. Whatever was cut out was bound to have ragged edges. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) reminded us today, the House placed within the 1794 embrace of the Corporation 92 firms—large, integrated firms—and it left out some 420 small finishing firms. The problem set by the Act was that of knitting the frayed edges together again and of ensuring some continued co-operation between the two sets of firms.
The Minister of Supply has sketched a provisional arrangement for the next few months, an arrangement making continued use of the existing body—the Federation. The virtue of that is that it embraces the whole industry. It has a purview of the complete problem. On the other hand, the Corporation will have only a limited purview. It will see only the problems affecting the large integrated firms. The arrangement sketched by the Minister, from the very nature of things, can be only a temporary one. In the long run—and this, too, emerged from the Minister's speech—there can be only one possible solution.
The Corporation may claim, in certain of its imaginings, that the whole of the present organisation must be taken over by it intact, that the small firms must lay down peacefully alongside the big firms: the lamb with the lion. There was a great deal in the speech of the Minister to suggest that that was the Corporation's contention. He said that the Corporation wished to make various conferences in which it predominated responsible to itself. I should like to ask what will happen to the private companies even within those conferences. There was no answer to that point.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us, in view of the admission by the Leader of the Opposition that this industry was at present managed by the Federation, what happens to the small firms now?
§ Mr. Jones
My point is that large and small firms are at present embraced within the one organisation. But on the day after vesting, the large firms will pass to one body—the Iron and Steel Corporation—and the other 400 will enjoy a precarious freedom outside. The problem is to link the two together again.
If there is an interim arrangement such as that described by the Minister, and if the vesting day is 15th February, that arrangement must break down in the course of time. If the Corporation exercises the claim to take over everything 1795 intact, and therefore dominates the small firms which it does not own as well as those which it does own, the two parties, the large and the small, will split apart. If they split, we shall still need for rearmament purposes a body or organisation to correlate the activities of the two: in other words, we shall have to erect a somewhat uneasy bridge between the two organisations. We shall have to create a third organisation to bracket the two antagonists—three organisations to conduct the work which has hitherto effectively been performed by one, and this chaos will be developing as the rearmament programme is getting under way.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees emulated his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply in referring to non-co-operation on the part of the Federation. We have heard again today the charge of sabotage. May I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider an imaginary example? Suppose that the Tories were returned to power and, fulfilling their long-standing ambition to grind the faces of the poor in the dust, established some new form of the old Poor Law. It would be the duty of hon. Members opposite not to obstruct the operation of that law, but if one of them refused to join the Poor Law board because he thought the Act was wrong, I should not gainsay his right to do so. Nor could I question it if the Labour Party, holding that Act to be wrong, declined to nominate any persons to serve on that board.
In other words, there is a distinction between obstructing an Act and in associating oneself actively with something which one holds to be wrong. This industry has refused to associate itself with something which it believes to be injurious, but it has undertaken to place all possible information at the disposal of the new Corporation, and the suggestion of a consultative committee, which I believe the Minister mentioned, emanated from the Federation itself. The Federation is quite prepared to give access to its working committees to members of the Corporation so that they may get the facts. That is not obstruction of the Act, but it is quite different from a refusal to join the Corporation.
§ Mr. J. Hynd
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The hypothetical situation which he envisaged is a situation which has, in fact, existed. When the Poor Law was in operation, the Labour Party never boycotted the Poor Law, but was represented on most Poor Law committees.
§ Mr. Jones
I do not think that intervention has much relevance to my point.
The cost of vesting on 15th February, I suggest, is distraction, as in the matter of raw materials, and a deranged organization—those two things. What, from the Minister's own point of view, can he gain? Control of profits? That is the cry raised by the opposite side. But the Minister has already in his own hands the perfect instrument for controlling profits, because it is he who, after the full examination of costs, determines the prices in the industry. The Minister said nothing today on whether the prices established by the Iron and Steel Corporation are to continue to be controlled. What else can the Minister gain, from his own point of view? A surcease of uncertainty and, therefore, an acceleration of development? But all the financial arrangements for development plans will be held up; they will have to be referred to the new authority. That does not mean acceleration; it means retardation.
What else can the Minister gain? Means to ensure, as he suggested in the debate last September, that the industry's capacity is adequate to the nation's needs for defence? That is a problem which has been ventilated on the other side of the Atlantic as well as here. Two years ago, President Truman was preoccupied by that question, but his approach to it was much more subtle than that of the Minister of Supply. If I may paraphrase President Truman's State of the Union speech to Congress, two years ago, he said that, if the American Administration considered that the steel industry's capacity was inadequate to the needs of the State, the State should reserve the right to build its own steel works to make up the deficiency. That was a sanction, a spur, which would have been a permanent and continuing spur, but, the moment we put into force a comprehensive scheme of nationalisation, we throw that spur away.
1797 In fact, that was the suggestion made to the Government by the industry in 1947. It was then said that if, for purposes of defence, the State thought it should build its own works or even take over particular works, all well and good. That suggestion was turned down by the Government. Had it been accepted, the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to ensure adequate capacity to meet the needs of defence without the cost which he is likely to incur on 15th February.
It is patent that the reasons for early vesting have nothing at all to do with defence or with the exigencies of the present situation. They arise from the fact that this Measure was conceived and received its seal by the House a long time ago. As time has gone by, so the Measure has fallen out of relationship with events and, indeed, as I believe hon. Members recognise, with the mood of the country.
I understand the dilemma of hon. Members opposite. Suppose they were to defer vesting, why, they would be confessing to past error, and would be calling in question the validity of a doctrine which, naturally, must hold for all time and in all circumstances. That was their predicament, and I understand the predicament. I understand that they have to dissemble it with the laughter which they show in all these debates, but I would remind them that consistency, stiff-necked consistency, is not a virtue and that more important than the vindication of a social theory is the national fate of England.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)
I should like to begin by saying how much we on this side of the House enjoyed the performance of Mr. Hyde which opened this debate, and to say how much we shall look forward to the performance of Dr. Jekyll on a date yet to be announced for next week. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) always tackles both these rôles with equal vocal vigour and rhetorical vehemence so that I at any rate would welcome some visual indication of the part he is about to play. I am not suggesting any drastic alteration of costume or uncomfortable distortion of the face, which would not be in tune with the dignity of the House, but perhaps 1798 I might suggest a red, white and blue cummerbund for Dr. Jekyll and a primrose waistcoat of not too deep a hue for the performance of Mr. Hyde.
The speech which we heard from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon was, for a great part, completely irrelevant a good deal of it was a rehash of the debate on the Iron and Steel Bill, and at least some part of it was in very poor taste. After all, when we had the right hon. Gentleman referring to Ministers clinging to office, what about the right hon. Gentleman himself? He not only clings to his position as Leader of the Opposition but is prepared to claw his way back into 10, Downing Street again at the slightest opportunity.
Although I represent a suburb of London, I make no apology for entering into this debate, because it is surely apparent to everybody that the issue is, no longer the technical one of steel. That is why, without any discourtesy, I do not propose to make any observations on the speech of the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) who preceded me. It is surely apparent to everybody that if gas had been delayed into the position of steel, or if sugar or cement had been brought forward into the same position, right hon. and hon. Members opposite would have had precisely the same sort of argument to bring forward why we should not proceed with those Measures.
The issue with which we have to deal today is, in fact, a Parliamentary and constitutional one as to whether, in certain circumstances, a decision taken in a previous Parliament should be reversed or deferred. In opening the debate this afternoon, the right hon. Member for Woodford brought forward the same kind of arguments as those which his party brought forward on the two previous occasions since the passing of the Iron and Steel Act on which we have debated this constitutional and Parliamentary issue. In support of their contention, he once again brought forward the curious doctrine of reference to the number of votes cast at the last General Election and to the size of the majority in this House of Commons. Personally, I prefer to accept the traditional, democratic doctrine of relying upon the simple Parliamentary majority, but, since these issues have been raised, and as they are 1799 the real issues on which we shall vote tonight, I think we ought to examine them on their merits.
First, let us look for a moment at the number of votes cast at the last election. The fact is that on that occasion the Labour Party received a bigger vote after the passing of the Iron and Steel Act than it did in 1945 when it only promised to take the matter into consideration. In February of last year, the Labour Party received the biggest vote ever accorded to a single political party. Is not that one of the motives to which the right hon. Gentleman sarcastically referred? Is not that an encouragement for the Labour Party to proceed?
§ Mr. Adams
If only the hon. Gentleman will wait, I propose to make a pretty thorough survey of the votes cast at the last election, because, after all, they are the core of the argument advanced by the Tory Party.
I will accept for a moment the argument advanced both on previous occasions by the party opposite and by the right hon. Member for Woodford this afternoon that they received 15 million votes against 13,250,000 received by the Labour Party. It was because of that argument that the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said on 9th March last:The majority of the electors did not take that view"—that was, the view of the Government—therefore, I do not think the Government are entitled to go ahead with their intentions." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 585.]The intentions referred to were those of the Government to proceed with the nationalisation of the steel industry. That is a very curious argument, because the Tories claim that the last election was, in fact, a referendum for or against the nationalisation of steel. I see hon. Members opposite nodding in agreement, and I am glad to have that assurance that they did, in fact, so regard the last election. But the significant thing is that, despite the extremely expensive clarion call that went forth from the Tory Party on that occasion, to the effect that everybody who had the good of the country 1800 at heart should at all costs turn out and vote against this dreadful steel nationalisation, 16 per cent. of the electorate, or more than five million voters, failed to take that opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the nationalisation of steel.
Where does that bring us? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nowhere."] On the contrary, it brings us to the true state of affairs as reflected at the last election, because, with the 13,250,000 votes cast in support of the Labour Party, together with the five million-odd who did not vote, we are, in fact, confronted with the position that more than 18 million electors in the last election did not oppose the nationalisation of steel. This is how the figures really speak.
Now I want to turn for a moment to the 15 million votes claimed by the Leader of the Opposition and his party. I do not accept their figure of 15 million in view of the fact that 2,500,000 of those votes were cast for the Liberal Party. If, as the right hon. Gentleman and his friends claim, there was only one issue at that election, the issue of the nationalisation of iron and steel, which party in the country were people likely to turn to? To the great, sprawling Tory Party, or to the small Liberal remnant? It is perfectly clear that anybody at the last election who desired above all else to oppose the nationalisation of iron and steel must have cast his vote for the Tory Party, and that those 2,500,000 who voted for the Liberal Party did so because they preferred some other element in the Liberal manifesto to the clarion call of the Tory Party to oppose steel nationalisation. Therefore, we cannot take the 2,500,000 Liberal votes into account.
§ Mr. Adams
That is neither here nor there. They polled less than 100,000, but I will give them to the Tory Party if it will cause them any satisfaction. Therefore, we are faced with the situation that at the last election, 12,500,000 voters strongly protested against nationalisation and over 18 million did not oppose it. In other words, it is safe to say that three out of every five adult voters in the country did not oppose the nationalisation of iron and steel. What did the right hon. Gentleman for Woodford have to say about this situation? On 19th 1801 September last—and he said much the same today—he said:Half of the nation ought not, in such circumstances, to claim the right on so slender a margin to knock the other half about and ride roughshod over it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1720.]Today, the right hon. Gentleman produced some new phrases. He talked about "a stumbling block to national unity," about a "deed of partisan aggression," and about "creating cruel discord." He also said that "the Labour Party should come into line." What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? With three out of five of the adult population not opposing the nationalisation of iron and steel, the right hon. Gentleman is claiming that, in order to preserve national unity, a compromise must be made on Tory terms. Here he is, not having the support of half the nation, even if we say the nation is roughly divided, claiming the compromise.
Why should the terms of compromise always be dictated by the Tory Party? Why should we disappoint thousands of workers in the steel industry and thousands of trade union voters merely to placate the right hon. Gentleman? After all, the Tory Party started this argument. I would never dream, for one moment, of deciding these issues by reference to the number of votes cast, but the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) did precisely that.
Let us turn for a moment to the Parliamentary majority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said on the last occasion that a majority of six or eight is not enough to carry on with this Measure and that it is not a real majority. If six or eight are not enough, what is the size of the majority that the Tory Party would accept? Is it 10, 20, 30? I would gladly give way if any of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would provide an answer.
§ Mr. Adams
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Learning-ton said on 9th March that if the Tories had won the election,… we should be asking for a repeal of this ACt."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 580.]1802 There is no qualification there. The right hon. Gentleman did not say, "If we had been returned with a majority of 20 we would have repealed the Act." But if the words of the deputy Leader of the Opposition are not enough, let us turn to what the Leader of the Opposition said on 19th September, 1950, and he repeated the argument today. He said:We shall, if we should obtain the responsibility and the power in any future which is possible to foresee, repeal the existing Iron and Steel Act …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1731.]But did the right hon. Gentleman go on to define responsibility or to define power? There is no definition. And why confine this curious doctrine about votes cast at an election and the size of a Parliamentary majority only to this present situation? What about the future?
The Tory Party have said in their manifesto that they will repeal the Iron and Steel Act, they will restore the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, they will restore road transport to private ownership, and so on. But on what conditions? Do they need a Parliamentary majority of only one or two in order to repeal the Iron and Steel Act? Why do they not tell us what majority they are going to work on? What would be the position if, as could conceivably arise after the next election, the Tory Party were returned to power with a Parliamentary majority of 20, but with a slump in votes of over two million? I should like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot to provide an answer.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If the hon. Member would like to be helped in his rather naive difficulties, I might tell him that if we had been in power with a majority of six we would have postponed the vesting date of the Act until the latest possible date.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member cannot have been listening. He seems to have been setting up a lot of ninepins and knocking them down to his own satisfaction. I tried to assist him. If we had been in the position of His Majesty's 1803 Government with a majority of six, we would have postponed the vesting date until the latest date in the year.
§ Mr. Adams
That is the same thing as saying that if the Tory Party are returned with a majority of six, they will make no attempt to repeal the Act. What is the size of the majority, or how many votes do the Tory Party want before they decide to restore the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act? It is perfectly obvious, by examining these two propositions in this way, that the whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford and his party is completely absurd and ridiculous.
They do not believe in it themselves, because if they did they would offer us some sliding scale for calculating the future. [Laughter.] Yes, something like this. The Tory Party, returned with a reduced number of votes, will do nothing, with an extra million they will repeal the Iron and Steel Act, with an extra two million they will restore the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act. A sliding scale of that sort will show us where we stand with regard to the future. Nobody believes in these arguments, least of all the Tory Party, who know that they are playing the party game at its worst.
Let me outline another aspect of this debate which has gone on ever since the Act was passed in 1948. Let us look at the three attempts that have been made to upset the decision of the last Parliament. The Opposition Motion on 19th September, 1950—and the right hon. Member for Woodford repeated it again today—accused the Government of:… dividing the nation on party political issues.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1719.]That is a typical Goebbels effort to throw the self-confessed guilt on to the enemy. The right hon. Gentleman knows he is playing the party game, and so there is nothing better than to accuse the other side of that very thing.
It is more interesting to look at the Opposition Amendment to the Address in reply to the King's Speech on 9th March, 1950, and to compare it with the Amendment on the Order Paper today. The Amendment to the Loyal Address said: 1804but humbly regret that … this vital industry will be kept in a state of anxiety and suspense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 474.]Now, nearly a year later, the Amendment today says:… the decision of His Majesty's Government to give immediate effect to the nationalisation of this industry is not in the public interest and should be reversed.In other words, in their efforts to play the party game, the Opposition, in the course of 12 months, have turned a complete full circle.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If the hon. Member will explain what effect the uncertainty of the last 12 months has had on the steel industry, I should be interested.
§ Mr. Adams
I should have thought it perfectly apparent that the Iron and Steel Act was passed by the last Parliament in 1948 and all this Government are doing is to carry out the routine necessary to implement that Act, and at every stage an effort has been made to thwart the intention of the previous Parliament in order to continue the class privilege and vested interests of the party opposite. But enough of this party game. It deceives no one. That despised individual who demanded 30 pieces of silver was no more dishonourable than those who claim the continuation—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member has used the case of Judas Iscariot and applied it to us. It is an offensive thing to say.
§ Mr. Adams
Further to that point of order. I did not compare the party opposite, least of all the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) to Judas Iscariot. I referred to those who might take a certain course of action in the Division Lobbies tonight. There is still time for hon. and right hon. Members opposite to change their point of view, and what I was in the course of saying was that that despised individual who demanded 30 pieces of silver as the price of his co-operation was no more dishonourable than those who 1805 demand the continuation of class privilege and vested interests as the price of their patriotism.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether these very offensive interpolations are permissible?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not hear the hon. Member apply his remarks to any particular Member. They were not directed to any individual. They were offensive, but if they are not applied to any individual they are not out of order.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am sitting near the hon. Member, and I distinctly understood that he said if I went into the Lobby and voted against his beliefs, I would be as bad as Judas Iscariot.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member can say anything he likes about a party. That has always been permissible.
§ Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)
The hon. Member referred to Members who went into the Lobby and voted in a certain way.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not laid down in Erskine May that the word "Judas" is unparliamentary, and has not the hon. Gentleman by implication applied the same expression to all hon. Members who cast their votes in a certain manner tonight?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already said that that was an offensive expression but it is not out of order. As the hon. Member has said, we have been told not to be too mealy-mouthed in these debates.
§ Mr. Adams
If I may conclude my speech, I was saying that the action of the man who accepted 30 pieces of silver was no more dishonourable than the action of those who demand the continuation of class privilege and vested interests as the price of their patriotism. I will go further and say that the people of this country will make their own assessment of this conditional patriotism, and when the time conies, they will reject it utterly out of hand.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Renfrew, West)
The speech to which we have just listened would not be worth considering, in content or in substance, were it not for the fact that it is probably the kind of speech which the hon. Member is making every week-end all over the country, and to which people are listening. It is very frightening that responsible Members of Parliament should produce some of the fantastic ideas which were in the hon. Member's speech, quite apart from its offensiveness. Some of the arguments were very far-fetched and ludicrous, but I want to come to one of the arguments of the hon. Member.
I refer to the question of mandate. That, undoubtedly, is arguable in this House and in the country, with reason. It seems to me an extremely impressive thought that throughout today the highways and byways have been combed, every hospital bed has been explored and not a mattress has been left unturned to produce the maximum number of "bodies" who can be moved somehow or other through the Lobbies this evening. That is good "whipping," and I admire it, but I suggest that it is an absolute travesty of British Parliamentary democracy that a decision which will have the most profound effect on the whole structure of our country, which in the next few months, and certainly in the next few years, can affect the efficiency of our rearmament, should depend upon a series of odd chances—whether a taxi skids on the way down Whitehall, whether someone is locked in a small room and cannot get out of it, even downstairs; it is a travesty of democracy that that kind of thing should determine whether the iron and steel industry should be nationalised. That is why we 1807 on these benches consider that a constitutional matter is involved when the Government insist on carrying it through with their present majority.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Apart from the important constitutional question, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that what he is saying about hospital beds and the like is a very strong argument for a rather more sensible and humane view of pairing arrangements in the House?
§ Mr. Maclay
It would be out of order to follow that point.
Let us carry this question of a mandate a little further. Let me remind the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), that in the 1945–50 Parliament the Labour Party, adding up every ally it had at the election of 1945, still hardly had a majority of votes in the whole country. That is when they had a majority of 200 in the House. We know the figures for 1950; the hon. Member has already given them to us, with curious embellishments of his own. No one would deny that under our electoral system a political party returned with a majority to the House of Commons has the responsibility of forming a Government and governing. But surely the spirit of the British constitution must be that before a Government, governing without a clear and visible majority of the nation behind it, makes a decision fundamental to the country, it must give the country a chance to speak again.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am speaking for myself, but I do not see how any Liberal could take any view other than this. I am not talking about forming a Government; I am talking about taking action which would be extremely difficult to reverse and which is completely disruptive to the basic life of the country. I would suggest that the spirit of British democracy, as practised in the past, has always been that such a decision should only be taken by a Government if it can show a substantial majority of the electors in the country behind it.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman not overlooking the fact that during the last two years every vote in the House on this Act of Parliament, on every phase of it, has been in favour of it and not against?
§ Mr. Maclay
Perhaps I may answer that point briefly, because I think we had better stop this constitutional argument before it goes too far. It was pointed out to me by one of my hon. Friends this afternoon that there is a striking difference between the comments made on the other side of the House in this Parliament and the comments made on those benches in the last Parliament. In the last Parliament the great cry was that almost anything they wanted to argue was "the will of the people, the people's decision." Today the cry is, "It is the Government's decision." Let the people realise that now hon. Members opposite are crying, "It is the Government's decision"; the Government know very well that they have not got the people behind them at this moment.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that in 1924 the Conservative Party were in power with a minority vote of over half a million, yet they passed the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act without any mandate?
§ Mr. Maclay
That is the perfect case. I welcome it. That argument has been used before. That Act, apart from its merits—I would remind the hon. Member that while it existed, the membership of every union in the country rose tremendously—is an illustration of how a minority Government can properly act one way or the other. How much trouble was it to repeal that Act when the Labour Party came into power in the last Parliament? There was a very short Bill, there was no disruption, and the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act was repealed. That is quite different from this case. There is no comparison at all. I suggest that the doctrine of mandate as preached by hon. Members opposite is completely invalid. I am sorry to have taken so long on that point, but I think it is one of the fundamental matters which we are discussing tonight.
I want to return to the very beginning—the first debate after the 1945 election, when the then Minister of Supply, who 1809 has since been translated to another place, said this:We realise as deeply as anybody the wrong that would be done and the grievous harm that would result if a mistake were made in a matter so vital to the future economic life of our country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 838.]That was the statement of the Minister of Supply in relation to the nationalisation of steel in the first debate we had on a Motion in 1945, before the Bill ever appeared.
Inevitably, the Minister of Supply went on, with his then knowledge of Socialist achievements in this country—they had been in power only a matter of months—to show how clearly it was in the interests of the country to nationalise iron and steel. Let hon. Members opposite remember that at that time State ownership had not been tried in this country in any major industry. Hon. Members opposite were then full of the first flush of victory; they believed that planning and controls could produce ideal results for the country; they were convinced at that time that bulk purchase and State trading could find raw materials better and cheaper and in more plentiful supply than any other system. Those were their convictions at that time.
I ask hon. Members opposite whether they can honestly say today that they realise thatwrong … would be done and … grievous harm … would result if a mistake were made in a matter so vital to the future economic life of our country …and yet can go ahead and nationalise steel, knowing now what have been the achievements of all their pet theories. Let us be fair about this: State ownership has not been functioning very long in any industry in this country and although, personally, I am convinced that it is wrong. I would not yet attempt to state that there can be no argument on its merits. I believe that before any unarguable judgment can be formed we must give State ownership a little longer trial.
Nevertheless, I repeat what I have said before in this House. Before we take a chance with an industry which is performing really efficiently and effectively, we should at least wait until we can see some real signs of State ownership either improving prices or improving quality—or even, and I give hon. Members this, 1810 of producing a feeling of really effective social justice among the people employed in the industry. I do not believe that even hon. Members opposite would say that the forms of State ownership we have had have solved conclusively any of these three key problems in our economic and social life. If they could show that they had solved one of them, there might be a decent case for going ahead with the nationalisation of steel. The solution of two of them would be a completely conclusive argument for hon. Members opposite. But they cannot show that any one of those three key conditions have been fulfilled.
Let us take another case, for this all affects what will happen after 15th February. Only last week we debated the question of coal, which we had also debated just before Christmas. We discussed then what planning, coupled with State ownership, had done with coal. I do not intend to repeat the coal debate and I am not talking about the shortage of coal. I am thinking again of what the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) emphasised a few days ago—the consequence, to our imports of ore, of planners making a series of mistakes which resulted in their having to buy abroad at the last minute—on 20th November, at the beginning of the three critical winter months—over a million tons of coal, which resulted in their having to take ships off other imports.
The right hon. Member for Southport pointed out, in the last coal debate, the very serious consequences which followed from the fact that ore imports into this country had to be sacrificed. Another question has arisen since then. I do not know the facts and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reassure us if he can, although I do not think he can. It is not just a case of the ships which were taken off ore imports in order to be put on to coal imports, leaving the ore behind, and going back when the coal programme is completed to pick up the ore.
What has happened to the ore in the meantime? Is it there now? Have we lost permanently the ore which was not imported in recent months? One of my hon. Friends suggests that it has gone to America. I do not know, and I hope the Minister can assure us that the import of the ore is only delayed. I do not think he can. Can we replace the ore and the 1811 timber which the planners succeeded in leaving on the wrong side of the Atlantic when the ships had to be taken off those imports and put on coal?
Hon. Members opposite must realise that this is not just a question of the political implications of the Iron and Steel Act. Some of us are genuinely concerned about what will happen to our country as a result of it. I do not think it is right that hon. Members opposite should forget for one moment that they have not been able, by the implementation of their pet theories, to do any of the things which must be done if the steel industry is to get us through the years ahead. I mentioned the question of ore imports because there we have already, in one nationalised industry, a group of planners doing something wrong and doing very serious damage to the steel industry.
Why, then, take more chances and set up this quite extraordinarily complicated structure which the Minister has tried to explain to us this afternoon? I listened to him as closely as I could and I shall read his speech in HANSARD tomorrow, but the only impression I got from his speech was one which made me feel, "Why does the Minister not withdraw the whole thing and stop having to do this fussing which, according to his own words, seems bound to make the working of the steel industry infinitely more difficult in the months to come"?
I am delighted that hon. Members sitting below me, Members of the Liberal Party, are supporting us today. I have never held two views on the nationalisation of steel nor, I think, have my hon. Friends, and I think we can be dead certain that between us we speak for every Liberal in the country—and I am not certain that we do not speak, also, for quite a large number of the supporters of the Labour Party.
May I give one piece of evidence for saying that? In the February campaign last year I had just finished a works gate meeting, held in a snowstorm, when three men, who do not produce steel, but who use it—and that is a very important thing—came to me and said, "We are not going to vote for you." I replied, "It is extremely nice of you to tell me, but it would interest me if you told me why." They said, "We are Labour men, but 1812 we do wish you would get our chaps to drop this nonsense of nationalisation." That is what I have been trying to do this afternoon, and if I have succeeded in persuading just seven hon. Members opposite to drop it, that should be enough.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham)
We have listened to a very interesting and frank speech from the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), but an impression has been given that there is great resistance and bitter opposition in the country to the nationalisation of steel. That is just so much nonsense. The truth is that the only opposition to the nationalisation of steel is stimulated and fomented by the Tories.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West, said that even members of the Labour Party opposed it, but I do not know from where he obtained that information. In my constituency, which has very little to do with steel, I certainly did not make an issue of it at the General Election, but my opponent did and I had to deal with the question of the nationalisation of steel at every meeting. Notwithstanding all that my Tory opponent did to show that the industry of the country was heading for disaster, that the economy of the nation would be disrupted, notwithstanding all the terrible pictures which were portrayed, my majority increased to 14,000.
I am rather glad that the issue of steel was introduced at the election because it gave me an opportunity of defending the policy of the Government in this matter. What I have not been able to understand is whether the Liberals and the Tories agree that nationalisation in itself is wrong. If they think it is wrong, I cannot understand why the Tories who so vigorously oppose the nationalisation of steel—to the extent of saying that they will repeal it if they are given power—are yet quite prepared to allow the mines to remain nationalised. They are quite willing to allow the nationalisation of the railways to continue. I wonder why it is. I think the truth is that the Tories realise that they are fighting against forces they cannot defeat.
The process of sociological evolution demands certain changes, and, inevitably, those changes must come or disaster will 1813 follow. Take the history of the mines. If they had not been nationalised what would have happened to the mining industry? It had arrived at a stage when it could not attract capital. What financier in the House would have bought shares in the mining industry when he had a chance of buying shares in a dog track? An investor puts his money where he gets the best return. The industry did not attract investment. It could not get capital. Neither could it afford to pay decent wages to the miners, with the result that capital and labour left the industry; and if the mining industry had not been nationalised, disaster would have overtaken it.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The Fife Coal Company, for example, sank, just before nationalisation, the greatest, the most modern, most expensive pit in the world, and its shares were attractive and popular.
§ Mr. Messer
Yes, just one little baby in this big family. If the hon. Gentleman could produce half a dozen such examples he would not alter the fact that the industry as a whole could not attract miners because it could not pay wages. The miners were not getting a living wage. Nor could the industry attract capital. Here and there there was a new mine, quite possibly, but the industry as a whole could not attract capital. If that is not true, if that is not the case, why is it that the Tories do not say they will repeal the nationalisation of mines, or, indeed, the railways?
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
The hon. Gentleman knows he is not comparing like things. It has been made quite clear that the reason we cannot de-nationalise the mining industry or the railways is that the egg has been scrambled, and we cannot unscramble it. In this case, however, it is a change of shares. That can be altered. It can be done, and we have said it will be done. In the other cases it cannot be done. One cannot build up things like those after pulling them to pieces, and those other enterprises have been pulled to pieces.
§ Mr. Messer
The Tories could if they wanted to. The hon. Gentleman says they could not de-nationalise the railways. Well then, how could it have happened after the 1914–1918 war, when the Ger- 1814 man nationalised railways went back into private ownership? It was done there. Obviously it could be done, and the mining industry could go back to private industry.
The truth is that the industry itself cannot run under private enterprise. Why? Because in this stage of sociological development the time arrives when what has been a profit-making industry becomes so essential to the life of the people that it is necesary for it to be run as a service. One reason why there is this urge to postpone indefinitely the nationalisation of steel, why there is this opposition and this resistance to the nationalisation of steel, is not the fact of service, not the essential nature of the steel industry, but the fact that it makes a profit. If it were not making a profit would hon. Gentlemen opposite then say they would repeal nationalisation? Would they say that, if it were capable of making a profit? The time arrives when that which has been a profit-making industry represents such an important factor in the life of the nation that we can no longer trust it in private hands.
A lot has been said about this "successful" steel industry. Has it always been run efficiently? During the past war there were not enough stocks for our purposes—
§ Mr. Messer
It was the fault of private enterprise. When they were unable to make profits because there was not the demand, they closed their works rather than build up stocks which might have been wanted.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I wonder if he would tell the House whether he believes that after nationalisation, if it takes place, the production of steel will continue to rise?
§ Mr. Roberts
Is it? Can the hon. Gentleman say with confidence that, the next year, production will go up as a result of nationalisation?
§ Mr. Messer
The question has been addressed to me and I have great pleasure in answering it. I say that, all things being equal, and with the same access to raw materials, and there being no difficulties associated with nationalisation, there is no reason why it should not be successful.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West, asked if we could point to any success in the industries which have been nationalised. Well, for the first time in their lives the miners are getting a decent crack of the whip, getting decent wages, getting decent holidays, getting decent social services. The miners are better off than they ever were. It may very well be that, if we are to apply the test of profit only—
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Gentleman is putting a reasoned argument, and I should not like him, in the course of it, to misunderstand what I said. I gave three points that show success—price, quality, or genuine social improvement. I give the hon. Gentleman some of the instances he has just mentioned. But the real critical things for the future are human relationships and incentives—human relationships and incentives in the pits.
§ Mr. Messer
From my contact with miners I should say that the human relationships between the miners and those responsible for the organisation of that service are better than they ever were before.
I want to get to this point about profits, because that appears to me to be the test. Why should we apply this test of profits? When we are dealing with that which is essential to the life of the people, then profits are certainly not the test to select. There was a time, in the history of this and other countries, when highroads were privately owned, and when one had to pay to pass a toll gate. The community could not allow progress to be impeded, and it took them over. We do not ask the man who makes a road to show a profit at the end of his week's work. Why not? We do the miner. A man who teaches in school or keeps us healthy, has not to show a profit. Those people are rendering services. The value of the miner's services is not shown by his pay packet every week. Yet the value of that service 1816 enters into every aspect of social and industrial life.
The illumination of this Chamber, the smoke from a factory chimney, the train that runs, the ship that sails, would, but for the miner, stop. In my view the miner is performing the most important service of anybody in the country. Just as the mining industry must be regarded as a service, so those services which are essential to the life of the people come into the same category. The test of the value is not profit, but necessity to the community.
§ Mr. Butcher
I am following the hon. Gentleman with great interest. Does he not regard agriculture as equally important, and, according to his argument, would he proceed to nationalise the production of food?
§ Mr. Messer
If the hon. Gentleman cares to read my maiden speech he will find that in it I advocated the nationalisation of the land as one way out of our difficulties.
Having said that, I come to what I believe to be the important and fundamental part of this question, and that is the principle of nationalisation. I can conceive that the Conservative Party, which very often follows the Labour Party, although a very long way behind, will come to realise, if and when it has to form a Government after the next General Election, that if the mines are not to be de-nationalised they must make nationalisation a success. While I regard nationalisation as the right thing to do, I confess that sometimes the right thing can be done in the wrong way, and I believe it to be as anti-social to have a board or corporation with officials getting fabulously high salaries and at the other end of the scale, workers getting low wages as it is to pay out profits. While the incentive of profit making is not there the value of the service of the worker can be absorbed in unjustifiable expenses.
My view is that we cannot look at nationalisation by itself; it must he examined in the light of the way in which it can be worked, and in the experiments with the mines and the railways. I hope we shall see the benefit of going to the people at the point of production and getting from them the value of their 1817 experience. The workers in the workshops have organising ability, and it is not sufficient merely to have joint consultative councils. In my view, nationalisation can be successful only if the three important partners in industry have an equal voice in determining the way in which the service shall be run: the producer, the consumer, and the Government who bear the responsibility.
The Amendment we are debating is very carefully worded. It does not ask for a complete postponement of nationalisation, but refers to the immediate postponement. One does not know quite whether or not that is to be taken seriously. It is obvious that what the Conservative Party want to do is to kill the Act now, and if they cannot do it now, they will try to do it if ever they get back to power.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Colonel Cyril Banks (Pudsey)
I do not think it matters to what trade or profession one belongs, in reaching conclusions on the subject we are now debating. Much has been said during the debate about the rights of the individual in industry. I am very pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) because I come from surroundings similar to his own, and it is appropriate that somebody on this side of the House, with probably not the same point of view, should say what they think on this matter. I was born and bred in the heart of the steel industry, and age for age I think that my record of manual work would compare favourably, if not better than favourably, with that of the average hon. Member opposite. My surroundings in my young days were very similar to those of any trade unionist opposite, and by my standards, many hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be living in the lap of luxury, and I cannot reconcile their point of view with mine. I think we all have a job in life, and it does not matter much what we are.
Nationalisation is, I think, contrary to the best interests of the individual and of the country at large. Now, I have not come to that conclusion quickly; I have not just weighed up political form on pamphlets. I have tried to study exactly where the average person stands, and I am convinced that had there been no nationalisation, trade unionists could have done equally well. If the trade unions 1818 had done the job they did before nationalisation was ever thought of, I am sure that the workers would have done very well out of industry. They had the power, they had the membership, they were able to say exactly what they would do, and they have built up a wonderful organisation for negotiating their rates of pay. I do not think nationalisation helps that at all.
§ Mr. Messer
From 1926, when the mines were not paying, miners were locked out for as long as six months over a reduction in wages, and the unions could not help that.
§ Colonel Banks
I appreciate the point and sympathise with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman might say about it, but I maintain that nationalisation is not the cure.
I have listened very closely to this debate, and the Minister has said, in quite reasonable terms, that he does not anticipate any increase in production as a result of nationalisation. From conversations I have had and from what I have heard from the Minister today, it appears that nationalisation will not increase efficiency, but is rather another way of handling the job. I do not want to go into the details of the Corporation or to be unkind about those who have accepted appointments on the Board, but I think it reasonable to comment that those who have gone on to the Board know less about the iron and steel industry than those who are running the industry today. It is therefore reasonable to assume that increased efficiency is not the reason for nationalisation.
There must be some other reason, and I am trying to find out what it is. On more than one occasion reference has been made in this House to the "steel barons in the Bahamas." The Labour Party itself has just blown that fallacy wide open. Everybody knows perfectly well that people who earn big money get very little of it. A man earning £100,000 a year gets only £7,000; the rest goes back to the State in taxation. It is reasonable to say, therefore, that the reason for nationalisation is not that it is economical, because the money goes back to the Government anyway. I can only conclude that the reason is that it is thought to be essential to socialisation. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer this 1819 question, which has not yet been answered. Is the reason for nationalisation efficiency, or the saving of money? Is it better for the country, or is it thought necessary to socialisation? I believe that the reason is because it is thought to be necessary to socialisation.
We ought to practise what we preach, and it is highly necessary that hon. Gentlemen opposite should practise what they have preached for many years. I have read a number of books which they have written, and one hon. Gentleman opposite says frankly—and I admire him for it—that all the means of production, distribution and exchange should be nationalised; that it is essential to the welfare of the State. I do not think that is in the national interest, but if hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with that, I wish they would say so frankly and tell us what they intend to do if they remain in office.
If hon. Members opposite intend to nationalise all these things and bring them under State control, let them say so. After they have done that, perhaps they will tell us how they intend to make these things pay. I do not think that it is possible to do so. I have not yet found a nationalised industry where the people in that industry have done a better job as the result of nationalisation. [An HON. MEMBER: "The miners."] I do not think that nationalisation is right or helpful to the nation, and I do not think that it is doing any good. Do you think that you are doing right in getting rid of the small men in industry? I am one of them.
§ Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would put that argument to the Iron and Steel Federation?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has not given way, and therefore the hon. Member has no right to intervene.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is addressing his argument to you instead of to the House.
§ Colonel Banks
I am extremely sorry, Mr. Speaker, if I have offended against the procedure of this House. Let me advise the hon. and learned Gentleman that he will not put me off as a result of 1820 his interruption. I am a small businessman, and what I have come by, I have worked for. I have built up a business, and I say that anyone who comes along and tries to take it from me is dishonest; and nobody is going to do so, so far as I am concerned. The Government say that they want the co-operation of everyone in the country in the national interest and in the national effort for rearmament. Do hon. Members opposite expect the small haulage contractor who has had his business taken away from him to be enthusiastic about this Corporation, or that anyone who is in a company which is to be nationalised is interested in what the Prime Minister or anyone else has to say about co-operation? I say that we should give a chance to the small people. They are the backbone of industry in this country, and no one has a right to interfere with them. If the Government and the trade unions want any advice from me, I invite them to come with me into the Lobby tonight.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Mort (Swansea, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey (Colonel Banks) pointed out a tempting path which I would like to follow, but in the time at my disposal I want to deal with one or two important points. I must confess that I am getting rather tired of the arguments on steel nationalisation. The subject has been debated until it is threadbare, and today we have had repetitions of many arguments for and against the nationalisation of steel. My personal view is that the question has been decided.
I would ask the Opposition: Do they really believe in the democracy which they talk about so often? Do they really believe in the parliamentary system and in putting the nation before party? Do they really believe in safeguarding our democratic institutions? I suggest that the question of the nationalisation of steel has been decided to the fullest extent—no other Act has had so much discussion. The question before us today is whether to postpone the vesting date. I congratulate hon. Members opposite on the stand which they have made in opposing it. They are like the character in Dickens who said of a man who beat his wife regularly, that if such regularity had been applied in a better cause, it would have been a virtue.
1821 It has been regularly said in the House, and again today by the Leader of the Opposition, that there is serious disturbance in the minds of the people because of what is to happen on 15th February. The hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey said that whatever one's walk in life, one had a contribution to make. If our contribution is to be effective, we must make it against a correct background. The Opposition are not fully acquainted with the psychology, approach and temperament of the man who has made such a great contribution to the economic restoration of this country—the steel worker, the man in the workshop. This questioin has been democratically decided, and I did not like the frivolous reference made today by the Leader of the Opposition to mandates and elections. Surely that is the fundamental basis of a democratic society. Can anyone say that the people of this country have not been given a full opportunity to give a decision on this question? They have. I am not going to say that it was a burning question in every constituency, but in the constituencies concerned with steel and tinplate, it was a firm plank in the election programme, and the decision given there was definite.
§ Mr. Mort
I cannot speak for Sheffield particularly. I am not disturbed about the result even in Sheffield. I know that two delinquents have left our party on this very issue and they went to my constituency. If the decision tonight means that we are having a General Election on this issue, I hope that those two gentlemen will come to my constituency again. A decision has been made by the people who understand this problem. Surely the election figures proved that.
It is stated in the Amendment that record production is one of the reasons why—I cannot understand the logic of the suggestion—the vesting date should be postponed. That record production is not just an accident; it is the result of the building up, by management and men, over many years, of a system in the steel industry.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Does the hon. Gentleman think that after nationalisation this record production will continue and further increase?
§ Mr. Mort
That depends upon raw materials. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that there is a danger with regard to the supplies of scrap metal. All things being equal, we do not anticipate a reduction. No one anticipates that there will be any trouble on the operative side. The operatives voluntarily decided to work a seven-day week when everyone else in the country was discussing a five-day week. They were not asked to do it.
There is a reason for the atmosphere and spirit which is to be found in the steel industry. It is due to the fact that the men in the industry have been brought up to observe agreements. I can remember John Hodge coming down to our works, when we had a dissident element, and telling us, "I have put my name on that agreement. That name is John Hodge, but it is your name, and so long as the agreement lasts it must be carried out." That is the spirit which obtains throughout the industry. The men have been brought up to believe that their word is their bond, and that is the reason why there has been no trouble about agreements and strikes.
The Government have decided that the steel industry is to be nationalised, and there is no going back on that without causing doubt in the minds of the workers. They will say that we are not men of our word. If this Amendment is carried, I can assure the House that it will be bad for the country. It will mean that the men who are breaking records in this bright spot in the industrial firmament will be disturbed. We must keep our bond tonight, and then the men will prove that they can work nationalisation in the interests both of the country and of the world.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I make no apology for having opposed the Measure to nationalise the iron and steel industry from its earliest days. I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Iron and Steel Bill and I opposed it at every possible opportunity. I thought that during the passage of that Measure the Government would tell the House and the country their plans for running the 92 firms which are to be taken over. I listened to the Minister today, but his speech seemed just like a 1823 fairy tale. We have not been told even yet what are the Government's plans and I now feel even more alarmed that the industry will be put in a parlous and unsatisfactory state.
I represent one of the Sheffield constituencies, and I can say that nationalisation of the steel industry was not the main plank of the Labour Party's programme during the last General Election.
§ Mr. Mulley
As one who contested a Sheffield constituency during the last General Election, I can tell the hon. Member that I made nationalisation of the steel industry a prominent issue. I had leading representatives of the steel workers to speak from my platform. Is the hon. Member aware that the total Labour vote at the last General Election and that the percentage of votes as compared with the Conservative votes were increased in comparison with 1945, which is also true of all the steel cities of the country?
§ Mr. Jennings
The hon. Member may hold that view, but I can assure him, as one who spoke against him in his constituency, that there was no clamour for the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry—the only thing I found was that the trade union leaders were trying to work up some enthusiasm for the Bill.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Is it not also a fact that when the Prime Minister came to Sheffield City Hall to meet the seven Labour candidates, not one of them had anything to say about steel nationalisation?
§ Mr. Jennings
We ought to remember, particularly in the case of Sheffield, that the steel industry is known throughout the markets of the world, and that these markets are being held because we produce the right quality of steel at the right price and deliver at the right date. Members opposite should not make the mistake of thinking that by taking over these firms it will be any easier to produce steel for the export markets. Indeed, the fact that the industry is taken over will make it much more difficult for these markets to be held. That is the reason why I have been opposed to nationalisa- 1824 tion throughout, and that is the reason why I intend to support the Amendment.
Another point which has to be considered is that nationalisation will affect all firms that use steel. The Government are taking over certain steel processing firms, and I am wondering how the Minister will allocate raw materials as between the firms that come under his control and those that are outside. That is a serious factor, which is causing some food for thought. These people are wondering how they will be treated. I have always felt that this issue is of such great importance that a Government with high moral standards would say, "As we have a majority of only two or three and this is an issue which will affect the lives of tens of thousands of people in the country, the right thing to do is to go to the country and decide the issue at a General Election."
That is what the Prime Minister ought to do, because opinion in the country has changed considerably during the last six months. It may interest Members to know that when I was on my way to the House of Commons today the porter who took my bags asked me, "Are you going to vote against the Government and get the so-and-so's out?" He is only one of many tens of thousands in the country. The fact of the matter is that the country is not being consulted because the Prime Minister and the Government know what the result will be. It is the fear of that decision that makes the Government hang on. I wonder how many Members of the Government could earn their present salaries outside the House of Commons. That is an opinion I must keep to myself, because I am not allowed to make any ulterior suggestions.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Does the hon. Member really think that it is in the public interest to have an election every year? Is he not aware that this Government won a General Election last year?
§ Mr. Jennings
I have many years' experience of this House, and my view is that whenever the position is critical from a national point of view, the nation ought to be consulted, whether it is in six months or 12 months—
§ Mr. Jennings
—to discover what is their opinion on the matter. By not doing 1825 so in this case the Government are thwarting the will of the people. They are continuing in office in precarious circumstances and every effort is being made to get votes for the Government in order to keep them in power. I feel that if we had a Government worthy of being called a Government—
§ Mr. Jennings
—this issue would have been delayed until a General Election and the people made their decision. It is the fear of the result of a General Election which makes the Government refuse to hold one. If they do not realise the far-reaching effects this nationalisation plan will have, then they are political fools. If they realise the far-reaching effects of the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry and persist in it then they are political knaves. No other interpretation can be placed upon their action.
This proposal, if carried through, will hit the whole economic life of the country, and hon. Members opposite should think about it carefully. Before we take the final plunge in respect of one of the greatest dollar-earning industries in the land, the people should have the right to say what they think about it—and if the Government come back with a good majority then they will be nationalising the iron and steel industry by the will of the people. I say that today they have not the support of the people—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Between 7.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. there can he no Count in the House under the Standing Orders.
§ Mr. Jennings
I am glad that I have got the opportunity of continuing. I do not know what the object was in calling a Count. Did the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) want to count his own Government out?
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
On the contrary, I merely wanted to draw the attention of the country to the fact that on this grave issue, as the Tory Party seek to call it, there are only about 10 Members of the Tory Party present.
§ Mr. Jennings
We now find that the calling of a Count by the hon. Member was out of order altogether. From time 1826 to time, there have been very few Members on his own side of the House during this debate. If the hon. Member sets such a measure of importance on this constitutional issue he ought to make the Government, which he supports, decide to put the matter to the test of the will of the people. The date of taking over the industry should be delayed so that the people will have an opportunity of finally deciding the issue, because I am perfectly certain that if the opinion of the country were sought now it would oppose, lock, stock and barrel, the nationalisation of iron and steel.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
The hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), a Sheffield division which I am told does not contain many steel workers, is quite correct in saying that he has spoken many times on this subject before. He has repeated the same arguments to my knowledge at least half a dozen times. Perhaps that is an unkind observation, because we all like his breezy, vigorous approach, but that unkind observation indicates the sickening extent to which this subject and Motions arising out of it have been debated in this House. Hardly a word has been said tonight which has not already been uttered at least half a dozen times. So far as Parliamentary discussion goes, we have had plenty of it.
It is said that the people's opinion is otherwise. I wonder how many elections it takes to convince the Tory Party that on this point the people are against them. It is perfectly true that in an ordinary election, including the 1945 and the 1950 elections, party programmes do not contain only one point. At any rate that is so in the Labour Party. It is equally true that in the 1945 election the nationalisation of iron and steel was quite clearly put to the people of this country as one of the major points in the election programme. Again in the 1950 election. after Parliament had passed a Bill, an outcome from which we are considering tonight, it was again put not only by the Labour Party, but by the Tory Party themselves, who attempted, quite unsuccessfully, to make political capital out of it.
Political capital was also made out of it by other people. Those interested in the Iron and Steel Federation, in my own 1827 constituency and in many others, spent a considerable amount of money by way of propaganda in the form of posters before the election, in an effort to influence the electorate. In my own constituency in the year before the election, the Tory Party happened to state what the cost of its propaganda was, and it amounted to over £4,000 in that year. That is a considerable sum of money, a great deal more than the Labour Party could spend. We all remember Lord Woolton's Fighting Fund. One of the questions that we on this side of the House have been trying to discover, but which we will not know until the Tory Party publish their party accounts, is what is the financial relation between the steel barons and the Tory Party, and has it any connection with the sickening repetition on this particular subject, upon which the people of this country have given their opinion quite clearly, and which has become by now part of the law of this land under ordinary democratic procedure.
I should like to remind hon. Members opposite, who constantly and rightly declaim against the menace of Communism, that that menace is not to be met merely by argument. It is not without reason that we talk of ourselves and other countries in Western Europe, particularly of ourselves, as outstanding and leading exponents of democracy. If hon. Members opposite have a minute, let them think what the Communist comment on this kind of campaign will be. Have they considered what will be the effect of these party manoeuvres on those who believe that under our Parliamentary system, at any rate, the will of the people gets proper and sufficient expression, if they think that we in this House are disregarding a decision, expressed not once but repeatedly, by the people of the country?
I am not saying that in every constituency iron and steel was a major issue in the last election. I should not think that the people of the Hallam division of Sheffield were so much concerned as were some other inhabitants of Sheffield, represented by some of my hon. Friends. I am doubtful whether the suburbs of London realise to the full the national importance of the iron and steel industry. I can tell right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that in my constituency a large and growing steel centre is included and 1828 that this matter was quite definitely an issue in the minds of the workmen and managers there. I endorse without hesitation what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Mort), just now, that if we were to postpone or give up the vesting of iron and steel shares, neither he nor I could face the iron and steel workers in our divisions. We have made promises to these folk. What would they say now? They would say that we had neglected a decision of the people and of Parliament and the Act which was on the Statute Book, for some party advantage or another, and that we had gone back on what had been already decided.
§ Mr. Summers
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is already within the Act, without any modification, scope for vesting any time in 1951?
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that I chose my language carefully. That was why I referred both to the Statute and to the decision of Parliament. The question of the date of vesting, as distinct from the provisions of the Act, has been discussed and decided by this Parliament not once but many times. That question has not been forgotten by those who are working in the industry.
We have been asked tonight—the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) has made a point of getting up time after time and asking hon. Members on this side—whether we can guarantee the production of steel under nationalisation. He really must think anybody half-witted who can answer that question in one way or the other. He must know that the supply of raw materials in this world, including the raw materials for iron and steel, does not only concern this country but many other countries, and that the the answer to the question involves the allocation of those raw materials among a number of competing nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain and in the United States. He must know, further, that one of his own right hon. Friends quite rightly and properly said the other night that the increase in the price of coal—which we are not debating tonight but which I am going to mention—is bound to result in an increase in the price of steel. Of course it is.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I am trying to expose in advance the alibi that is probably going to be made about production. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the people who got this raw material in the past were workers in the steel industry, that in future the officials of the new organisation may not be able to do so, and that that will be the fault of nationalisation and not of anything else?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am going to expose in advance an alibi, as the hon. Member describes it, which is certain to be put up by the Tory Party and their more misguided supporters. Take the case of coal, since that has already been taken tonight. I wonder whether right hon, and hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that with seven-eighths of the number of miners we had immediately before the war, we now produce far more than seven-eighths of the pre-war total, and very nearly the same total of coal. Yet during the war we rightly stripped and exhausted the best seams because of the exigencies of a war situation. Do hon. Members opposite realise that the output of the individual miner has gone up sharply since nationalisation? Do they realise that the coal, which was properly described by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Macmillan) as only fit before nationalisation to use for crazy paving, is now being rapidly—but it takes time—improved in quality by the installation of cleaning and sorting machinery such as private enterprise did not sufficiently put in?
§ Mr. Jennings
I thank the hon. and learned Member for giving way. Would he agree that stone as well as coal is coming up today and that the output is being taken as the output per man, whereas before the war the stone was not taken into account?
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Member's interjection shows such a complete misunderstanding of what was happening before nationalisation and of what is happening now in this debate, which is concerned with the postponement of the vesting date of certain iron and steel shares, that I had better leave that matter where it is for the moment. All the assumptions made from the benches opposite are that nationalised industries have been a failure. What is the ground 1830 for saying so? We are getting more coal per miner now. We are getting better coal. The rise in the price is simply due to our treating the miners properly at long last. Our railway trains are more punctual. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members do not believe me, they had better ascertain the facts before interjecting. Railway trains are more punctual. [Interruption.] I see that facts are disliked by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Railway fares have risen to a much smaller degree than the charges of some private firms. Fares are much less than the corresponding charges in countries where private enterprise is operating.
§ Mr. Maudling (Barnet)
As the hon. and learned Gentleman is challenging us on the facts, may I ask whether he is not aware that the output of coal per man-year is now 282 tons as compared with 300 tons before the war?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I can only repeat, for the hon. Gentleman's information, that, with seven-eighths of the number of men, practically the same quantity of coal is being produced now as before the war. The hon. Gentleman will find the figures in the Digest of Statistics. He will find too, as I have said, that the output per man-shift has gone up sharply since nationalisation and is up by comparison with what it was before the war. If the hon. Member does not believe me, perhaps he will believe Lord McGowan—the hon. Member knows that he is not an accredited member of the Labour Party—who told us that we should be getting one million tons a week less if the mines had not been nationalised. If the hon. Gentleman wants to convince anyone about that, perhaps he will talk to that eminent industrialist, whose practical experience in these matters no doubt extends to a few strikes, and who will be able to confirm the opinion he so eloquently expressed.
Not a jot or tittle of evidence has been given by the Opposition that the nationalisation of iron and steel will impede production in any way whatever, and the need for nationalisation remains exactly what it has always been. It is the right thing in the interests of the country and is right on the question of where power shall rest in a democratic country. We were told quite frankly by the Leader of the Opposition that the 1831 steel industry had been run by the Iron and Steel Federation with 33 members in effective control. Those people had the power to shift employment, to shift bodies of men, to leave towns desolate, to build new ones and to rebuild others, and to change the whole economic and social life of the country. They did change it in one very obvious instance when they moved the big iron and steel plant from the coal of South Wales to the ore fields of the Midlands.
The economic and social consequences of changes of that sort are too important to the community as a whole and too vast in their nature and their implications to be left in the hands of 33 gentlemen who have no responsibility to anyone. If democracy means anything in this country, those who have that power must be responsible to Parliament and, through Parliament, to the people of the country. Our concern is that that responsibility should be real but that it should be exercised as it is intended to be exercised under the Act, without interference with the ordinary day-to-day running by the technicians and the management of the industry which they know so well.
I will give an instance of that, and I do so with my eye on my right hon. Friend the Minister. He knows very well that in and around my constituency there has been a great deal of very serious interference with the amenities and prospects of the countryside, interference due to the operations of private enterprise and the lack, hitherto, of sufficient control in the Government of the day. We have lately acquired that control. I hope that my right hon. Friend will remember that when the vesting takes place an additional responsibility will perhaps rest on the Government with regard not only to the iron ore workings in the Midlands but also the very vexed question of the tied houses, which exist in this and other industries.
If the Amendment were accepted we should be breaking faith with democracy as I understand it, and we should most certainly be breaking faith with the men on the sweat of whose brows and hands the industry has made itself so successful and who have served the country really well.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am glad to be able to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He gave way on a number of occasions, for which I am grateful; and I do not think he lost anything thereby. I want, first, to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings). He was attacked by the hon. and learned Member who said that my hon. Friend had repeated his arguments a number of times. My hon. Friend was right in repeating the arguments, because they have never yet been answered, and I hope he will continue to repeat them until he gets an answer.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also asked what the Communists would like to see. I believe that the one thing that the Communists would like to see is the nationalisation of the steel industry. That is a very significant fact and the hon. and learned Gentleman might ponder that very carefully. Towards the end of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech it appeared to me that as he was unable to speak in the coal debate recently, he was trying to get over a few points on that subject in this debate.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), spoke about production under nationalisation, and I asked him whether he could give an assurance, as one confident in nationalisation, that the production of steel would rise after the advent of nationalisation. I asked other hon. Members that, and I was interested in the very shady—in terms of definition—answers which I got. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering finally brought the matter to a head by making a point about it in his speech.
We must watch very carefully what is happening. In the past one of the most difficult tasks of the officials in the steel industry has been making certain of their raw materials. We hear a great deal about the seven-day week and the work put in by the workers—which we all very much respect—but not very much is said about the work of the vast organisation which has to collect the scrap, the raw material and the iron ore to keep the furnaces going and the men employed. That is the task which the Corporation will take over. It is a difficult task. It has not been easy to get 1833 scrap from Germany and iron ore from northern Spain, particularly when the ships have had to be diverted, but that work has been done and done successfully, and it is one of the main reasons for the increased production of steel during recent years.
Is the Minister confident that under the new set-up, in which he is devolving some of this responsibility, particularly, away from firms, nationalisation is the answer to the problem, or does he think, as I do, that one of the results of nationalisation will be a failure to get those very raw materials which, in the past, private enterprise has been able to get?
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
is the hon. Gentleman making a debating point, or does he really want a reply? The organisations associated with the Federation which are now seeing to these things, buying the ore, and so on, will continue in existence. That has always been made quite clear.
§ Mr. Roberts
Very well. If they continue in existence and nationalisation is implemented, I assume that we are to expect a continual rise in production, as we have seen over the last two years.
§ Mr. Mulley
Coming from Sheffield, the hon. Member is surely sufficiently familiar with the steel scrap position and the present difficulties about getting from Germany what was in plentiful supply when Germany was clearing up in the years immediately after the war. Secondly—I put this point to the hon. Member because it may he raised again—if, because of raw material difficulties, production falls. I hope the hon. Member will turn to private enterprise concerns in Sheffield and other industries whose production is bound to fall because of raw material difficulties and say that they, as well as the nationalised industry, are inefficient.
§ Mr. Roberts
If the production of raw material goes down as the result of nationalisation—and I say "as a result of nationalisation" because, after nationalisation, the Minister will be in charge of the ship. [An HON. MEMBER: "The same people will get the raw material."] The hon. Member does not realise that when there is the centralisation of the corporations of nationalised industries—we have seen it over and over again—that grip begins to go. I know that hon. 1834 Members opposite do not believe it; they still fly the flag of nationalisation—with a certain amount of diffidence after what they have seen in the case of other industries.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
The hon. Member seems to be under an illusion about the position. The Minister made it clear today that the Iron and Steel Disposal Board, so far as iron scrap is concerned, and Iron and Steel Corporation (Ore) Limited, which buys ore, and has bought it in bulk for the last 30 years, will continue to get what is possible having regard to world supplies. Only unpatriotic people will not continue to serve Britain as well as they have served private enterprise by failing in the future to get what is available at reasonable prices.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am making no imputation against the patriotism of anyone. I say that the organisation which Members opposite are trying to shackle on the industry will bring about inefficiency, and that we shall see the proof, as hon. Members are afraid in their hearts will be the case. Production will go down when nationalisation is implemented, and I think hon. Members opposite are trying to prepare an alibi about implementation at this time by saying that raw materials are scarce. Raw materials have been scarce all the time. There has always been a battle to get raw materials from Germany; in the early days after the war that was the case in respect of Germany, because of the American approach to the problem. It has always been a struggle, as those in the industry know, and if the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House at a later date to make a statement when the trend begins to go down, the responsibility will rest upon him and his Government.
My second point relates to the question of price. We had an interesting argument from the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), whom I am sorry not to see in his place, in which he said that the profit motive was a wrong one. There is a point I would put to him and hon. Members opposite. One of the reasons for the profit motive is because it is a gauge of efficiency and has always been considered such. That is now to go, and it is up to those who nationalise and to the Minister to produce some other gauge of efficiency.
1835 I suggest that one of the alternative gauges of efficiency is the question of service. The price of the commodity which is produced is a gauge. I can understand, therefore, that because of the increases in raw material prices and of coal—we are to be faced with an increase of 6s. 3d. per ton on coke and possibly an increased price for gas, I do not know the price of steel is bound to rise. Will the price of steel rise only to the extent of the increased prices of these raw materials? Can we have an assurance from the Minister that under this wonderful scheme of nationalisation he will at least keep the price of steel at the present level, except for the increase which the rise in raw material prices necessitates? That is a fair question.
The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that when the Minister of Defence was Minister of Fuel and Power the first lines of the Coal Nationalisation Measure he introduced referred to "cheap and abundant supplies." Will the Minister of Supply now tell us that as a result of nationalisation we shall get cheap and abundant supplies of steel, because if he is not prepared to say that at this time, I suggest that he has no right and is not entitled to implement these regulations. The burden is upon the Government and hon. Members opposite to show us that by the nationalisation of steel at this time we shall get better, cheaper and greater service. Unless they are prepared to do that, they are not entitled to receive the assent of the House to their proposal.
§ Mr. Hamilton (Fife, West)
Will the hon. Member answer a question? He said that profit was the gauge of efficiency.
§ Mr. Hamilton
How can we gauge the efficiency of a school, or a hospital or any other kind of public service—and I presume that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that steel is a public service?
§ Mr. Roberts
I said that profit is one gauge of efficiency and that another gauge is service. In the case of schools the gauge is service. If the children there cannot pass their examinations it is a bad school; if they can do so it is a good school. One of the gauges of efficiency is service.
§ Mr. Roberts
Exactly, but will the Government spokesman answer my question? Will cheap and abundant supplies of steel be provided as the result of nationalisation?
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sure that this debate will have convinced this House and the country that this Amendment is inconsistent with the best traditions of public life in this country and unworthy of any great political party which professes to have the interests of the nation at heart. The Amendment is inconsistent and unworthy because it is not brought for any of the normal reasons which should actuate the tabling of an Amendment or Motion in this House. It is not brought on its merits or to test the will of this House. Nor is it brought to test the opinion of the people in the country. It is clearly brought for party purposes in the hope of snatching a chance party victory, and to gain propagandist publicity for a lost, discredited and out-of-date cause, namely, the private ownership and exploitation of national essential commodities.
Let me argue briefly each of those propositions. The Amendment is not brought on its merits because it is axiomatic that public services should not be privately owned. I do not think that anyone in this House, or elsewhere will argue at this time of day that iron and steel is not a public service. If I needed to call in aid an authority on that subject, I should call in aid none other than the present Leader of the Opposition. He said:I have no hesitation in saying that I am on the side of those who think that a greater collective element should he introduced into the State and municipalities. I should like to see the State undertaking new functions, stepping forward into new spheres of activity, particularly in services which are in the nature of monopolies. There I see a wide field for State enterprise…But he did not stop there. He went on to say:Collectively we have an Army and a Navy and a Civil Service; collectively we have a Post Office and a Police and a Government; collectively we light our streets and supply ourselves with water; collectively we indulge increasingly in all the necessities of communication.I would observe that if that is so, why should we not collectively make iron and steel, which are the essential ingredients 1837 in those very activities which he has enumerated? This distinguished speaker went on to make clear the distinction in his mind between those phases of the national endeavour which should be subject to collective enterprise and those which should be subject to private enterprise; because he said:But we do not make love collectively; and the ladies do not marry us collectively; and we do not eat collectively; and we do not die collectively…But he goes a little too far when he adds that:it is not collectively that we face the sorrows and the hopes, the winnings and the losings of this world of accident and storm.Such a distinguished and authoritative speaker there makes clear the distinctions between those phases of human endeavour which, in his opinion, should be subject to collective effort, and those which should be subject to individual effort. That clear distinction indicates his view and it is indeed our view on this side of the House. If that be so, there is no difference upon that between the distinguished speaker for the Opposition and ourselves. Therefore, this Amendment is not brought by him upon its merits, but for other reasons.
It is not brought to test the will of this House because, as has been well observed before in this debate, this topic has been argued in this House and on other occasions; and when a vote was taken it was in favour of the Act and not against it. Therefore, this Amendment is not brought to test the will of this House. Nor is it brought to test the will of the people of the nation. That, too, has already been decided. It has been decided in two General Elections. It has been decided in a series of by-elections which have taken place since 1945; not one of which went against the present Government: not one of which could be construed as a vote against this particular Act. Therefore, this Amendment is not brought to test the will of the people of the country.
Why, then, is it brought? If it is not brought on its merits; if it is not brought to test the will or wish or opinion of this House; if it is not brought to test the wish, or will or opinion of the people in the country, why then is it brought? Obviously it is not brought for any of the normal reasons, the proper reasons, which should actuate anyone who brings 1838 a Motion or Amendment in this House. It is brought for improper reasons; it is brought to attempt to snatch a party victory instead of for the reasons which should actuate hon. Members of this House.
It has been said today that to implement this Statute—not a Bill, it is the law of the land—is wrong in the present emergency. Why in the present emergency? If it is right to nationalise steel in circumstances when there is no emergency, is not it a fallacy to say that it is wrong to do it in a state of national emergency? Is not it a fortiori more right and proper and necessary to do it in a state of national emergency? Steel is one of the essentials of our defence. Is it right that it should be under the control and at the command of a set of private individuals, however distinguished they may be, rather than at the command and under the control of the nation? I think that question answers itself.
Another point made today was that to implement this Act is constitutionally disturbing. This Act is the law of the land. The Government is implementing the law of the land. Who are the disturbers? They are those who attack the law of the land and who seek to prevent the Government from implementing the law of the land. Their action in bringing this Amendment today cannot be other than profoundly disturbing to the House and the nation. In this matter the Government are the constitutionalists; the Opposition in this matter are the rebels. They are rebelling against the law of the land. They are rebelling against what is the Statute law, and that cannot but have adverse repercussions, not only in this country, but abroad, amongst people who do not study our constitution as closely—
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way to me? He has accused us of rebelling against the law of the land. Surely Parliament is part of the law of the land?
§ Mr. Hughes
If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that my argument is this. Here is a Statute which is the law of the land. The Government seek to implement it. The Amendment is 1839 designed to frustrate that purpose. Those who seek to frustrate the implementation of the law of the land are rebels.
The third argument, which was adumbrated but not really argued today, is that the Government policy in this matter is a breach of national unity. That is completely untrue. The reverse is the case. As I have said, this is the law of the land and those who are committing a breach of national unity are not the Government who seek to implement the law of the land, but the Opposition who seek to frustrate it and who have organised an extensive campaign in the country to frustrate the law of the land in order to divide the nation upon this important topic. It is they who, to use their own expression, are committing a breach of national unity.
The country has approved of this legislation at two General Elections. It has approved of it at a series of by-elections. Those who turn a blind eye to that or who do not realise the approval which the country has given, are the people who are splitting national unity. It is entirely wrong, fallacious and improper for the Opposition to attribute to us what is really their own fault and indeed their own crime.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Summers (Aylesbury)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will not think me discourteous if I keep within the terms of the Amendment before the House and do not follow him in his somewhat irrelevant considerations.
§ Mr. Summers
What the country is concerned with is not whether the Government are determined at all costs to put into force the law passed when circumstances were different, but whether the House is prepared to face the facts of the present situation and modify such previous decisions as it has made in the light of those considerations.
The Minister of Supply, in commending -the policy of the Government, spent very little time indeed on justifying, the continuance of their previous decisions in the face of changed circumstances, and spent some time describing the interregnum arrangements which are to prevail, 1840 I think he said, for the next three months. It would not be possible merely on hearing the one description by him of the arrangements set out for those three months to comment intelligently on them. Even if these arrangements were capable of working effectively, which I do not believe, what is to happen at the end of this period? I do not believe it possible, within the limited time of three months, to arrange a permanent organisation which will take account of the new Corporation and dovetail it into the working of the industry as it has been for the last few years.
To understand why there is genuine fear of the consequences of implementing this Act on 15th February—and here I confine myself to the terms of the Amendment—it is necessary to understand how the industry is at present organised. There are really three tiers—[An HON. MEMBER: "There are plenty down our street."] I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who usually takes the trouble to interrupt me—though why he singles me out I do not know—will try to treat this subject with the seriousness which we believe is its due.
First, there are the companies themselves, then the conferences concerned with firms making like products, and, therefore, concerned with similar problems, and then the Federation itself, consisting of departments serving committees concerned with common services. I propose to spend a few minutes showing how the impact of the application of the Iron and Steel Act on each of these three tiers is, in our judgment, likely to frustrate their efforts, to impede production, and, generally, to interfere with efficiency.
The Minister, in reply to an interruption which I made during his speech, told us, as far as I understood him, that it was not the intention of the new Corporation, in dealing with the companies, to divest them of day-to-day responsibilities of management. I wish I could believe that 100 per cent., but when I find that steps are already being taken by the new Corporation to get into direct touch with every workman in the industry, when I find that they are concerned with the appointment of senior executives in these companies and are also concerned with such matters as pensions schemes, I find it difficult to understand that they are not 1841 going to concern themselves with the day-to-day management of the companies' affairs. It is for that reason that I feel justified in saying that the advent of the Corporation, on top of the companies' managements which have hitherto prevailed, will lead to a dual loyalty, to uncertainty in the future and, if it goes on long enough, possibly some resignations.
Now I want to deal with the conferences. There is a phrase which has been constantly used in this debate that the steel industry is to be nationalised. I do not think it is generally appreciated that in respect of the 92 firms that are to be taken over, responsibilities devolve upon the Corporation quite different—in respect of some of them—as compared with other firms that are to be taken over. The Act gives public duties to the Corporation in respect of hot rolled material. There are 11 conferences in this industry, and only in two are the public responsibilities of the Corporation applicable in respect of hot rolled material. In the other nine conferences, they are not concerned with hot rolled material at all, and in these conferences the Corporation will be merely a large employer, having no public duties imposed by Act of Parliament, and in precisely the same position as any other employer sitting round the table.
Thus, regarding the firms to be publicly owned, there will be a diversity of responsibility in respect of hot rolled material, and I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman concurs in what I am saying. In addition to that, there will be a marked difference between the firms publicly owned and those that are not, and here I want to draw the attention of the House particularly to the fact that this split between the public and private sectors is in that part of the industry particularly interested in rearmament. We find that, in all these sections, and particularly that of alloy steels and the like—I do not quote figures to save time—the publicly-owned sector will be a minority interest, and it is interesting to note that, in the last war, when great supplies of equipment for the Services were needed, it was just these particular sections which had to be greatly expanded to fulfil the demands made upon them by the Services.
The output of alloy steel was doubled, that of castings increased two and a half 1842 times, of drop forgings nearly double, while the production of bright steel bars was increased by three times. It is completely fallacious to imagine that the acquisition of these 92 companies through the implementation of the Act will do anything to ensure adequate supplies of these particular types of steel that are especially needed for rearmament.
I come now to the question of the Federation. I think it was the hon. and learned Member for Kettering who looked with suspicion on the control of this industry by 33 people in the past. But at least the results of their labours were very satisfactory to the country. Why should he look so askance at the control of an industry by 33 people if that was so, and, in the next breath, be willing to put it in charge of six inexperienced people appointed by the Government of the day?
The success of this industry may be attributed to many factors, but not the least important is the fact that the joint planning in respect of raw materials and other factors treats the industry as, one interdependent whole. Each section depends in one form or another on another section, and if it is to be split in two, between the publicly-owned companies and the privately-owned companies, it will not be possible to treat the industry as a whole in that unified way which has in the past, as has been so clearly shown. produced the best results.
Before the war, some critics asserted that too much time was taken up with organisation and administration, and too little with production and efficiency. But that is precisely what must follow from the early implementation of the Act. What we shall find, I have no doubt, is that those in charge of the industry will be wrestling with the difficulties of administration freshly created by the implementation of the Act when they should be solving the difficulties of supply. Instead of adjusting production to the new needs of the consumers in the rearmament field, they will have to adjust the organisation to meet the new demands of the Corporation. Instead of increasing the production of steel they will be concerned with increasing the number of officials attached to the industry; instead of conserving raw materials they will simply be conserving incompetent Ministers.
1843 What is all this for? As I see it, the industry is to be divided so that the Socialist Party may be united. I do not believe that the country will lightly forgive this petty piece of political jobbery. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he can control the industry by a steel board with adequate powers, but if he continues to ignore the danger with which the country is faced, and the disruption and the ill-effects which will follow, not only will he mislead the country but he will undermine the confidence of the other free nations of the world who are anxious that we should play our full part in discharging our international responsibilities. I say to the Government that, having failed in coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—having failed in groundnuts, and having failed in meat, so long as this country is in danger, for heaven's sake leave well alone.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
We have listened today, as we usually do, to a long series of speeches with regard to this vesting day, and I think that possibly I shall be making the 808th speech on this subject—790 on the Bill and the 18th speech, I believe, today. Despite all that has been said on this matter, the Opposition will persist in telling the country that the subject has not been talked about and debated. This is not a question of whether we should nationalise the steel industry. That is something which has been decided and which must be implemented. Tonight, the final phase will be reached when the Tory Opposition can go into the last ditch to try to reserve this industry unto them-selves and to keep it away from the democratic control of the nation.
Speaking as an ordinary steel worker, it appears to me this Government is expected to win three consecutive elections before it can implement this Act. I can never remember any Tory Government being expected to win three consecutive elections before it could implement a Bill it had passed in the last but one Parliament. That is the issue, and of course the Tories today are seeking to prevent this Bill from becoming operative.
There has been a lot of talk today about the record the industry has set up, and the Amendment refers to it. I could 1844 talk for a week about the records which have been achieved and pay tribute to the management, as I have always done, and the men for proving that they can get together and, given a proper system and given raw materials, serve this nation as no other industry has served it.
The steel workers, to a man, demand that this Bill be implemented. I know there is an odd person here and there whom the Tories could find, if they searched diligently enough, who would say that it would not be a good thing. I have great personal regard for the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) and his brothers in the industry, but he has taken particularly good care not to seek a seat in this House from a constituency of steel workers. He has gone very far afield to gain the suffrage and support of the people to enable him to speak in this House at all. But that is beside the point. The point now is: Where do we go from here?
Not one word has been said about the admirable speech of the Minister in which he described how the take-over is going to take place provided—and that is the one proviso—that the present control and influence at Steel House prove to be patriotic. I believe the men at Steel House will be patriotic when this issue is decided. They have naturally fought to the last ditch. They will wait until the matter is decided tonight, but they will have to realise then that they are in this with us, that the very bread and butter of the nation depends upon it, and I am certain they will respond.
I heard the very fine maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Rev. Llywelyn Williams) during the debate on coal. He spoke of the magnificent gesture of the miners in starting to work on Saturday mornings, which in my opinion was five years overdue. But the steel workers in this country have been working Saturday mornings, afternoons and nights and Sunday mornings, afternoons and nights since the commencement of the last war, and that should be recognised.
These are the men who have kept faith with Britain, and this Government should keep faith with these men. If the Government do not keep faith with these men, then we who have been responsible for advocating this policy and for securing good relations from the men's side will 1845 not be responsible for what may happen. There are vast problems in the industry. A great deal has been made by the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) of the scrap position. War means scrap, not only of iron and steel but of bodies and souls, and there has been far too much of the latter.
The source of supply of scrap metal is drying up, and we must turn to indigenous ore and the hot-metal process, about which few hon. Members opposite know anything. It demands the use of blast furnaces and, through the lack of foresight of the Opposition who knew the position, those blast furnaces have not been supplied in sufficient quantity to ensure a supply of metal to offset the decrease in scrap. I suppose that we on this side would be blamed if the tonnage decreased because we had not made provisions which the Opposition should have made when they were in power.
Coal has been mentioned. One cannot get coke without coal and without coke one cannot have the blast furnaces burning the right quantities of the right quality at the right time. I am not going to say that the coal we are getting is all that it might be, but we would not be getting even the amount of coal which we are now getting if the Opposition had remained in power. That is an important fact. Even the steel workers complain. They are, on the whole, a complacent, happy-go-lucky lot. They do not complain much; they are too busy producing steel to grouse much, but they are fed up with producing more steel when their compensation seems to consist of a little less coal and less meat. But they understand why. The steel worker knows that with the limited amount at the disposal of the Government, they have what they never had before—a fair and equitable share of what there is.
The labour supply question will affect the industry. As the Corporation knows, our men have put in for a 42-hour week. They made that a part of the bargain when they agreed to the continuous working week. They made it part of the bargain to have the continuous working week that when circumstances gave them an opportunity they would pursue their claim for a 42-hour week. No band of men anywhere in the world deserve more recognition of their demands than the steel workers of this country. They have 1846 played the game with this country and with the Government, and the Government must, in turn, play the game with them.
There is the question of ore supplies, and I have heard reference to our indigenous ore supplies. It is one thing to talk of ore in the ground, but the Tories never say which of them is going into the bowels of the earth to get it. It is the same with coal. It is no use demanding more ore unless we can find an adequate labour force, and who is going into the ore mines knowing the past history of those mines? There are questions of the import of ore from abroad and of the diversion of shipping to bring coal, which are matters of importance, but it would have been impossible to have had our present steel production under a Tory Government, because we should not have had the coal to do it, nor—which is much more important—would we have had the good will of those who make steel.
The Corporation may handle the finance; they may take over the shares and deal with the tonnage; they can handle all the things which they think matter and all the things which the Tories think matter, but one thing they must be careful to do—and I am speaking now to the new Corporation—they must be careful to handle correctly the psychological attitude of mind of the men. If there is any disruption of present labour relations, or if I could foresee such disruption, I here and now declare that I would vote against the Government tonight.
In Steel House there are people whom I know personally and for whom I have a great regard, people who are efficient; if they make up their minds to help this Corporation and work in harmony with it, I can think of nothing which will prevent this Act from being successful, except for matters over which we have no control, such as the international situation and war, which we hope will not come.
As a constitutionalist and a democrat, I believe it is right and proper that if the Government put the Measure on the Statute Book regardless of what the Opposition think, or what other individuals may think, it should be implemented. The Leader of the Opposition, 1847 if he were in power today, would be sending people to the last man into the last trench to defend democracy; yet today he made a speech which is absolutely contrary to constitutional democracy as we understand it on this side of the House.
As a humble person who has had something to do with building up the industry in a capacity other than on the management and financial side, I want to appeal to the Corporation to play its part as it can be expected to do. Speaking on behalf of the steel workers, I want the Corporation, and the Federation in conjunction with the Corporation, to see to it that no syndicalism creeps into this matter. The steel workers do not ask for nationalisation of the steel works for the steel workers. They ask that the geological wealth of this country, which was vouchsafed to us by Almighty God, shall at long last be used in the interests of its people.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
I am sure the House is always glad to hear a speech from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who is universally liked and respected. I want to pick out of his speech something with which we on this side of the House all agree—the fact that the records of production which have been achieved by the steel industry are, in the main, due to the efforts of the workers in the industry. They could not have achieved these records without good management, but it would, indeed, be ungenerous not to pay such tribute as I can to these efforts at the beginning of my speech.
The fact that no Minister of full Cabinet rank has taken part in this debate and that it is to be wound up by a junior Minister—and there is nothing personal in this matter at all, because we all appreciate his assiduity and his courtesy—shows, once again, the frivolity of the Government at this time of national crisis and shows, once again, how out of touch they are not only with the needs of the time but with the wishes of the people.
I may say that it is the first time in my Parliamentary experience that I have heard an hon. Member from the Government benches, before a Minister had made his speech, ask Mr. Speaker whether he 1848 would be in order in moving "That the Question be now put." After hearing the speech of the Minister of Supply I may say that I understand the motives which actuated the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) although I do not, of course, necessarily applaud them.
The attempt to play down this debate, to give the impression that everything over the nationalisation of iron and steel has already been settled, is a petty manoeuvre and will be recognised as such by every man of good will. I may say that I greatly deplore the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), should have lent all the weight of his legal authority to the idea that the Amendment on the Order Paper attempted to upset the law of the land. When I get a little further in my argument I will show how badly he has been briefed on this question.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
If the right hon. Gentleman was here when I made my speech, he will recollect that what I said was that the attempt was to frustrate the implementation of the law of the land.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I did not hear the hon. and learned Gentleman use that somewhat inelegant phrase, but I heard him use may other phrases which suggested that the object of the Opposition was to defeat the law of the land. I will come to that argument in a minute, but I deplore that so great a legal opinion should be put behind a thesis which is so fragile.
We on these benches are, of course, unalterably opposed to the principle and practice of nationalisation in any industry and, as my right hon. Friend said, when we are returned to power we shall repeal the Iron and Steel Act. Nevertheless, the Amendment before the House, and all that the House is asked to vote about this evening, is a narrower but none the less vital issue. Many hon. Members—and the hon. and learned Member is one—have devoted their speeches, or part of their speeches, today to the advocacy or defence of nationalisation as a policy or a system, and we can all readily understand why those speeches were in order.
But, as I have said, this is not the matter which is primarily before the House this evening. What is before the House this evening is whether the Government are right to apply almost the earliest permissible date under the Iron 1849 and Steel Act in order to put its provisions into force. All the arguments which we have heard—from the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, from the Minister of Supply and from the Prime Minister—that the Act is on the Statute Book and, therefore, that it is the plain duty of the Government to put the Act into force are, of course, humbug and bunkum.
The Minister of Supply used this threadbare argument again today. This kind of argument is merely burking the issue, because it has to be said again and again—and I am thinking of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, North, in particular—that the Act itself gives the Minister latitude, and he could, literally without lifting a finger, see that the vesting date is deferred until 1st January, 1952. No jot or tittle of the Act need be surrendered by hon. Members at this moment. All that need be done is to defer the putting of the Act into operation until the latest date permissible, and that is 1st January, 1952—and to say so.
The Minister of Supply, in his remarks, said some rather obscure things. He put the matter in an obscure way. He will, no doubt, correct me if I do not follow him accurately. He said that the control of the whole industry by the Iron and Steel Federation, with some underlying representation on the conferences, but not on the executive committee, would continue for an indefinite period which, he hoped, would not extend longer than three months. Is that correct?
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
Broadly, with the qualification. that the Corporation members would participate in the active work of the Federation throughout.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I have already mentioned that qualification. The qualification extended to certain conferences and committees of which the Corporation was to have membership. But it is not yet agreed, and could not be agreed, that Corporation members should be members of the Executive Committee of the Iron and Steel Federation, because that committee deals with many companies that are not within the ambit of the Act. Therefore, what we heard from the Minister of Supply—I am trying to be strictly fair, but it is a rather obscure subject, and was rather obscurely explained—was that, 1850 after an indefinite period, which he hoped would not extend beyond three months, the iron and steel industry shall be under the control of the Iron and Steel Federation, while certain memberships of conferences and committees underneath that were to be extended to the Corporation. If we wanted a more complete and absolute argument that the vesting date should be deferred until the Corporation was in a position to assume its responsibilities we could not have found it anywhere than here, straight out of the mouth of the Minister of the Crown responsible for the Act. What he is saying is that the Corporation is not ready to assume its responsibilities. All that it is ready to assume is the nominal ownership of these particular shares.
I think at this point it is relevant to my argument to ask why the 12 months' latitude was written into the Act originally. Was it, for example, a conciliatory gesture made towards the Opposition, who had so strenuously opposed the Bill through all its phases? Was it, perhaps, a conciliatory gesture to my right lion. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and to the arguments that he advanced? Or to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Learning-ton (Mr. Eden), who made a notable speech on this subject? Was it for those reasons? I wonder.
I think it was put into the Act for two reasons—and, if I may say so, for two very good reasons. It was put into the Act, first, to give every chance that the transfer from private ownership to public ownership should not take place—this is the negative reason—should not take place in critical times when dangers overhung the nation; and, second and positively, that it should take place, as far as possible, at a time when experiments could be tried in the hope that nothing worse than money might be lost.
It was put into the statute in order that the Government, which had to apply the Act, and thus make so sweeping and so vital a change in our industrial and national life, should at least enjoy the unquestioned mandate and support of the people in so doing. Those are the only two understandable reasons why this latitude was put into the statute, and the Minister of Supply, in more candid days, has subscribed to the argument which I am now putting before the House. I 1851 suggest that neither of these conditions is fulfilled today.
Turning to the first condition, I suggest that never in this century have the dangers which hang over this country been more menacing than they are today. The perils are, in my earnest belief, worse than those of 1914 or 1939. It is often claimed that the Welfare State has achieved social security, has insulated all our fellow citizens, the subjects of the Crown, from the changes and chances of this mortal life from the cradle to the grave. Phrases like "social security" and "collective security" have a terrible habit of recoiling upon mankind. If we were to accept all the claims—and this is not the time to debate whether or not they are well-founded—of social security we should at best be claiming that the State has protected its citizens from everything but the first, most deadly and most important of perils to its social security, namely, aggression by a foreign Power and invasion of these islands. Not only, therefore, are conditions today not those of reasonable tranquility in which experiments can be tried, but they are the very reverse: they are times of acute danger.
The second reason I suggest why this latitude was written into the statute was to enable the Government, who had to apply the statute, to be sure that they enjoyed the unquestioned support of the country. I do not think that any hon. Member in any part of the House believes in his heart of hearts that this is a condition or posture in which His Majesty's Government find themselves today. Even in this House the Government enjoy what I might call an ambulance majority. The motto or slogan of the Government, if I might be permitted to pun, is solvitur ambulando. Even in this House it becomes necessary for the Prime Minister personally to solicit a "pair" for a Minister who is abroad. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not!"] I think it is an odd thing to do, because I do not know of any recorded instance when a "pair" for a Minister abroad on national duty has ever been refused. Not only is the Government majority in the House precarious in the extreme, but in our opinion it has no majority at all; indeed, much the reverse, in the country outside.
1852 I sum up this part of my argument by the plain statement that the latitude permitted was written into the statute to meet precisely the conditions which exist today, namely, that of a Government with a precarious majority, and in all probability a great minority in the country, and also a time of national crisis.
Let me now turn to my next point. Perhaps a rather pedestrian argument. I think we were all told almost in the nursery that we should not change horses when crossing the stream, and should not change even from a tired horse to a fresh one in mid-stream. Does anyone attempt to deny that the stream we are trying to cross is a dark, dangerous and deep one, which is trying to suck us down?
What we are proposing to do goes far beyond violating that old adage, because we are proposing to change a tried, proved horse which has broken record after record—look at the figures—with an animal which has so far no successes to its credit, and which has so far failed to produce any kind of form, namely, the nationalised horse, and to make this change in midstream. Nobody in his senses would suggest that it was a good plan to swap a tried, record-breaking horse in midstream for a colt which we suspect to be bred by Hardie out of inefficiency.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way the hon. Member must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I do not wish to pitch my argument too high, as hon. Members opposite will very shortly find. I found a great deal in the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), with which I was profoundly in agreement. I am not at the moment saying—although I believe it to be true—that nationalised industries and services will always fail upon the test of efficiency. I think that they will, but I am not saying so now. There are some nationalised industries and services which may have come to stay, and we shall all have to try to make them work—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because if they do not work efficiently, we shall have to pay for them as we are paying for them now. That may not be an idealistic 1853 reason, but it seems to me to be a very good one.
I am not pitching the argument as high as that. I am only saying that up to now no nationalised industry or service, in the opinion of any dispassionate Member of the House, has so far proved itself. I do not say that they will not, prove them-selves. I say that up to now they are unproved, and that argument was developed earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West. Are we satisfied with the experience which the public has had at the hands of the National Coal Board over the production or distribution of coal; or of the Transport Commission over the handling of the problems of road and rail transport; or—a more topical subject—that the nationalised buying of food has yet proved an advantageous system?
I am not saying that one day they will not be different. All I say is that up-to-date all these nationalised industries and services are unproved. We may have different opinions about whether that may change one day. If further arguments are required that they are unproved, I would say that every hon. Member in any part of the House knows quite well that we have not yet worked out a system by which the House of Commons has proper and complete control over those public corporations and nationalised industries so that we can safeguard the taxpayers' money without at the same time imposing vexatious restrictions on their activities. In short, the whole weight of human experience, accumulated even before the Socialist Party came into being, can be expressed today in one or other homely adage "Wait until your ship"—in this case the nationalised ship—"comes home before you embark upon further adventures on perilous seas," or, if hon. Members prefer a shore-based adage which I have already used, "Do not change horses when crossing a stream."
I now turn to another argument put forward during the debate, notably by the Minister of Supply. He advanced the argument, I think, that nationalisation of steel is urgent and necessary because of our rearmament programme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members agree with me. This has the merit at least of being a new argument. I do not think I shall be overstating it if I say that it is an afterthought. When the 1854 nationalisation of iron and steel was first put into the Labour manifesto of 1945, it was perhaps understandable that no thoughts of rearmament were in the Government's minds. They did not even think much of rearmament when they introduced the Bill. Perhaps it would have been better for all of us had they had that in mind when they did, but they certainly did not.
One of the reasons, in fact I think it is the only reason, which the Minister advanced in favour of this startling proposition was a quotation from the "Manchester Guardian" of 1941. I think the article he quoted was referring to a particular production of alloy steel. He described the "Manchester Guardian" as an authoritative and balanced source—a discription with which I agree. Perhaps I might draw his attention to a later article from the same "authoritative and balanced source," one which is a little more applicable to our present discussion than the quotation the right hon. Gentleman disinterred from the past. This is a leading article from the "Manchester Guardian" of 20th September, 1950. I cannot read the whole article, which is highly hostile to the Government's attitude on the vesting of the iron and steel industry, but I will inflict two quotations on the House.The Government must yesterday have disappointed the more open-minded of its own supporters.Not a very enthusiastic supporter of the Government—this "authoritative and well-balanced source." Later, the article—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I really must be allowed to read this article since we have been referred to this paper. I am sorry that it is so distasteful to Members opposite.The competition between the State and the remaining private firms will cause difficulties. In any case it will cause acute difficulty when, with the rearmament programme, the Ministry of Supply is the most important customer.May I, on this point, recommend the Minister of Supply to follow his "authoritative and well-balanced source" to the end of its argument, and not just those arguments which happen to suit his passing purposes?
Let us now turn away from that point. Upon mere facts, is there anyone to support the idea that nationalisation has a particular relevance to rearmament? Of course, there is no relevance. None of 1855 the principal armament firms are affected at all, except indirectly. Firms like Vickers, John Brown and Cammell Laird are not directly affected at all. The statement of the Minister shows that the last semblance of a reason for changing over ownership has been removed. If I understood him aright, the set-up is to be for an indefinite period, that the Iron and Steel Federation should manage the affairs of the industry and that there should be a rearmament board to coordinate the rearmament programme under the chairmanship of Mr. Senior, an official of the Federation, and a well-respected one, and another body, the Corporation, with, as yet, a quite undefined relationship to the industry, except having a cuckoo in one or two of the Federation's nests, but not, of course, in the Federation's executive committee.
Over and above all this, with the interrelationship so ill-thought out and defined, there is, of course, the Department itself, headed by the Minister. The mere sketch he gave us is in itself a convincing argument for delaying the vesting date. It really shocks me that the Government, which presumably has been working out a system for the nationalisation of the steel industry ever since the Lord President of the Council put it in the Labour manifesto in 1945, should have the effrontery to come to the House and say that next week, after the vesting date, the Corporation is to consider how the future of the industry is to be managed under nationalisation. What a confession that is.
Under any other system than management by the Iron and Steel Federation, under Government control there must be great anomalies and great difficulties. For example, only 6½ per cent. of the drop forging capacity of the country, 23 per cent. of the steel castings, 24 per cent. of the steel bars, 68 per cent. of the alloy steel and only 25 per cent. of the high speed steels used for tools—I understand it requires 40 different types of tool steel to equip an aircraft factory—are within Government control, so that the Government, under this plan, hold only 25 per cent. of the capacity of the country. Thus the whole argument is directed to show that events totally unforeseen when the Bill was introduced are now reasons why it should be applied immediately.
1856 Let me admit that there would still be some force in this argument upon other scores if the steel companies were free to charge what prices they liked and to make money out of the rearmament programme, which I am quite sure none of them wishes to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That just is an example of how hon. Members opposite impute the most unworthy motives to those who do not happen to agree with them politically. Whether that is true or not, everybody knows that the present control and set-up of the iron and steel industry would not permit such profits to be made.
We on this side of the House believe that the solution to the problem of this vast key industry lies in leaving its day to day management to those who understand it, and who have proved by their record that they can manage it well. They also prove by their record that they will seek the co-operation of the steel workers, to whose efforts, as I have already said, these new records are largely due. While leaving the day-to-day responsibility to the present management, we believe that the State should control prices and approve of the capital development of this great industry.
We do not believe that the solution of this problem is to be found in responsibility by the Government and the Civil Service for day-to-day operations. They are ill-equipped to supervise it, and all contemporary history will show that to be true. They should divorce themselves from responsible day-to-day operations such as marketing, exports, salesmanship, and so on, but let them have the final word over prices and capital development. If I understand the Liberal Party's Amendment to the Amendment, in that respect they believe as we do.
It is useless to say that any of this freedom can be secured by the present proposals of the Minister. Where there is State ownership there must be State responsibility, even in the day-to-day operations. The only solution lies in the system which has gone on since 1933, and which will really represent the marriage between free enterprise and public safeguards in a key industry of this kind.
I have tried to show why the vesting date should be postponed. I must turn, in conclusion—I will not trouble the House with any technical arguments— to the 1857 question of why the vesting date is to be applied at this very early date. I will genuinely try to put it in as little a provocative manner as I can. Any hon. Member present now knows that if the Prime Minister were to defer the vesting date his party would be split from top to bottom. He has to temper the wind to the shorn Silvermans of the day. Such tactics are, if not defensible, at least understandable and I could even defend them if the authors of such a policy felt that, given the power, they could dominate events, that they had a message to tell, a mission to fulfil, a clear course to steer—whatever metaphor one likes to pick.
We all know here that the Government have lost confidence in themselves and are dominated by events, and that again and again they are faced by dangers and crises by them unforeseen, and in many case by them alone unforeseen. Why, the present Government have had three defence programmes in six months. Another cold winter brings us to the edge of another coal crisis. The fumbling and inefficiency of the Ministry of Food have reduced our meat ration to its lowest point in our history.
The object of all these manoeuvres is to keep the Labour Party together and to preserve the semblance of unity. [Laughter.] It is all very fine for hon. Members opposite to laugh. I was about to mention the question asked by one of my hon. and gallant Friends about a gentleman who is apparently an official Labour candidate, who is standing for Bristol, West, and who states publicly that he does not believe in rearmament at all. It may be that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply will tell us whether this candidate, who avers, according to the Press, that his attitude to rearmament was well known before his candidature was accepted, is to receive the usual official benediction from the Prime Minister. In today's circumstances the unity of the Labour Party only comes together in the Lobby on a particular occasion, and is not found outside the House except when there is a three-line whip.
I say, with all sincerity, that it is unworthy of Ministers of the Crown to claim power without purpose and to seek to guide the destinies and shape the fortunes of a great nation upon an exiguous 1858 margin of votes in the House which a taxi accident or an attack of influenza may sweep away at any moment. It is unworthy of the responsibilities laid upon the shoulders of His Majesty's Ministers. We see before us a planless, coalless, meatless, hopeless Government, and it is time that they were gone.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. John Freeman)
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman opposite, whom, of course, I acquit of any personal reference, should find my presence at this Despatch Box an indication of frivolity on the part of the Government. The fact is that if I appear among my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench as something of a remnant in this steel debate, it is because we have debated this question so often that I am almost the only Member of the Government Front Bench who has not advanced these arguments at one time or another.
I thought—I believe all of us on this side of the House thought—that one of the effects of today's debate would be that some sort of new case on this subject would be brought forward, and when one of my hon. Friends at the end of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Question should then be put, I thought, not that he was offering a criticism of his expectation of my right hon. Friend's speech, but that he was following the very common practice of the law by submitting that there was no case to go to a jury.
Before I turn to what may prove to be a more controversial part of my speech, there is one thing which I want to say and with which I believe the whole House will be in agreement. We heard today a maiden speech of a remarkable character. Everyone who was present will agree with that. In offering my good wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn), I do so with the feeling, which will certainly be shared by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that we have very much in mind the affection and respect that we have all had for his father for a very long time. Perhaps the truest compliment I can pay to the hon. Member is to say that I should be perfectly satisfied if he were standing here at this moment in my place.
1859 The Leader of the Opposition and, to some extent, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) were both quite fair in this respect in putting their case. They agreed that what we were supposed to be debating today on the Opposition Amendment was not the principle of whether or not steel should be nationalised, but the narrower question, which comes into the Amendment itself, whether vesting day ought to be on 15th February. Whether or not steel should be nationalised is, of course, debatable, but Parliament has decided it. The last Parliament passed the Act and this Parliament has, on three separate occasions already reaffirmed it.
Really, if we are to debate the Opposition Amendment, we must debate it on the assumption that we are not this evening discussing whether nationalisation is desirable in principle or not. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) in a public speech the other day, gave us that point, saying, "We do not want you to compromise your views on this. We are prepared to accept that you want to do this and that you have the power to do it, but nevertheless we ask you not to do it." Insofar as it is within my power, I propose to address my arguments principally to the narrower question: "Is it right to do it now?"
Once again, the House of Commons has pronounced itself on this. It has done so three times already in the lifetime of this Parliament. Yet we are asked to review it again tonight, with, so far as I can see, no fresh evidence of any kind adduced to suggest that we should not do it. In all these circumstances, the onus of proof in this case must be on the Opposition. The House of Commons expressed its opinion on 6th March, 19th September and 7th November of last year and now it has been asked to do it again. So far as I heard, not a single new argument was brought forward by the Opposition.
What are the three main arguments which they have put? I shall be as fair about it as I can. The Leader of the Opposition made great play on the issue of national unity. Several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have said, in effect, that we have too small a majority to undertake a controversial step of this 1860 kind. Finally, all of us on both sides of the House have very much in our minds, I believe, the perfectly fair and proper question: "Is this damaging to our defence programme?" I propose to say a few words on each of these points because I believe they are fair points which deserve an answer.
As to national unity, it always seems to us that national unity is something which the Opposition demand from Labour Governments—or, in the past, demanded from Liberal Governments—on Tory terms. We cannot understand why this should be so. It is the old trick. My right hon. Friend quoted examples of it in his speech. It is another example of what happened, perhaps, in 1922 and what certainly happened in 1931. The Tories always come to us and say, "This is a time of crisis when we must have national unity, and, therefore, you, the Labour Party or the Liberal Party"—[Interruption.] —well, perhaps hon. Gentlemen will let me develop my argument and then see whether they agree with it. They always come and say, "We must now have national unity, on condition that the Labour Party will abandon the principles and policies in which it believes." I am prepared to agree that if we wish to achieve national unity there must be a certain amount of give and take on both sides; but surely in major matters the first essential for national unity must be that the Opposition are broadly prepared to accept that policy which the Government think fit to carry out—for this reason, if for no other, that the Government cannot divest themselves of the responsibility for taking actions necessary to govern the country.
At the present moment, as I understand it, on our external and defence affairs there is some measure of agreement between the two parties—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—all right, some hon. Members do not agree, though I should have thought it was fair to say that there was some measure of agreement between the two parties on that. But on our economic policy there clearly is not such agreement. On our economic policy at home we differ. The Government believe that the implementation of this Act is necessary and important for the future well-being of the nation; and while they command a majority in this House, they are in duty bound to do what they consider right.
1861 The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) talked about the decision made at the end of the last Parliament to defer the vesting date. He quite properly said that one of the reasons for that was, no doubt, that the electorate should have the chance of pronouncing on it again. But the electorate has pronounced on it again—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and the great advantage of that implied bargain over the last election was that the result of the election left us in no doubt as to what criteria had to be applied in order to judge our right course. If the party opposite had won the election, they would, in fact, have been in power, and would no doubt have repealed the Act. As we won the election we are in power, and we have no intention of repealing the Act.
It really is a new doctrine, and, with respect, I should have thought a thoroughly unsatisfactory one, that the ability of Parliament to take action depends on the size of the majority on any particular issue. For example, is the Government, any Government, charged with all the responsibilities which Governments have, to be prevented from taking, let us say, an exceedingly unpopular measure, which it considers necessary, merely because all the Opposition in a narrowly divided Parliament choose to turn up on the same day and vote against it?
The argument is also produced that, by some back-room calculation which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) made public some months ago, all the Liberals should be lumped together on this issue of steel and the deduction drawn that they were all against the Government on this; and that therefore the Government are wrong to carry out the instructions of Parliament. That proposal has only to be enunciated for its absurdity to be obvious. In the last Parliament the Liberal Party and the Labour Party supported the nationalisation of the coal mines. It is quite clear that they were in a substantial majority in the country. Did that stop right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite from keeping us tramping through Division Lobbies at all hours of the night, when carrying out a policy clearly endorsed by the majority of the country? As soon as the right hon. Gentleman's argument 1862 is thrown against him, we can, at least, see that, whatever actual validity it may have, he does not believe in it himself at all. One would pay more attention to arguments of that kind if it were not characteristic of the Tory Party to regard the Constitution as being specifically designed to enable them to continue to exercise power in all circumstances, by fair means or foul.
This afternoon the right hon. Member for Woodford made a most revealing and interesting remark to us, giving his view on the doctrine of the mandate. It so happens that I do not propose to base my case this evening to any great extent on that; but I was more than interested to hear him say that he did not admit that the presence of any particular item in the manifesto of a party seeking election makes it mandatory on that party if it is elected. That is an arguable and debatable point of view. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell those of us who in future try to follow these matters which of the items in his next election manifesto are those which he will regard as being mandatory if he happens to be returned to power.
§ Mr. Freeman
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. I shall have a few words to say about that later. What we shall be even more interested to know is whether the 300,000 houses would be another.
§ Mr. Freeman
That in itself is not much of a promise. All we are asking the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Really, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friends exercised a degree of courtesy in listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) was not here for a good deal of the time. I think that we are entitled to the same courtesy in return. All I was asking is that, whatever else he does, the right hon. Gentleman should make it plain in which half of his mandate, either the mandatory half or the non-mandatory half, each of the individual promises will come.
I wish to say a few more words about the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and 1863 his personal reference to the chairman of the Corporation. I speak with complete seriousness about this. It is always very delicate when we are debating a highly controversial matter in this House to know whether one ought to drag in personalities of that kind or not. I always understood that the best rule to observe in these cases was that, where people were not in a position to defend them-selves, it was, on the whole, more decent and less vulgar not to make personal allusions.
When the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) simmers down, I want to say something on the subject of rearmament. If it were true that our defence plans were likely to be imperilled by the implementation of this Act, then there would be a case for halting it. The whole force of our submission is that this is not true. All that happens on 15th February is the transfer of the shares from the private shareholders to the Corporation. No one thinks that that in itself will affect the working end of the industry. No one doubts, further, that in order to discharge fully the duties which Parliament has placed upon it, the Corporation will have to assume gradually the whole responsibility for the broad planning of the industry, but the Act is framed in such a way that the powers to do that are transferred at one stroke, without the slightest effect one way or the other on the management or workers.
The 15th February having passed, what matters thereafter is that the Corporation, possessed of these full powers, can proceed as fast or as slow as it considers the situation demands. Naturally, in present circumstances, the Corporation will exercise very great discretion not to make drastic changes which would imperil our defence programme. Naturally, it will proceed step by step in consultation with the individual firms, and with the leaders of the British Iron and Steel Federation.
That consultation will certainly be both constructive and friendly as between the Corporation and the companies, and I hope, and I may say I believe, that once this vote has been taken, and provided that the Government wins it, the leaders at Steel House will approach the problem in the same spirit. It is really 1864 hardly fair of hon. Members of the Opposition to blame the Corporation because at this stage it has not finalised its relations with the Federation. The reason why it has not done so is because, while the Opposition are whipping up what I would describe as synthetic heat on this issue, very naturally and very understandably the leaders of the Federation have been unwilling to talk.
There is one thing at least I will say on behalf of the Liberal Party, whose attitude this evening I regret. They did say—they have said in a public announcement made to the Press this morning —that at least they will regard this vote as conclusive in this Parliament. I imagine that there can be few hon. Members opposite who do not accept that position in fact, and, if they do, I say for heaven's sake let the leading Members of the Opposition take it upon themselves to advise their followers at Steel House that the time has now come for them to lend their brains to help, and not to continue to obstruct the will of Parliament. Let there be no mistake, about it. In the last analysis, if this comes to a fight, the Corporation hold the big guns, and the Corporation will win. How infinitely more satisfactory it will be if both parties can approach these negotiations with the idea—and I believe it to be a sound idea—that it is possible for them to reach agreement.
The one thing which is quite certain in all this is that the worst factor, either in planning defence or the steel industry, is the element of uncertainty, and it really does strike some of us on this side of the House as being a little odd that during the whole of today we should have had one Opposition speaker after another saying "Postpone, postpone, postpone," whereas up to about last November they were all telling us that uncertainty was the thing which damaged the industry most. We have always agreed with that, and we do not propose that that uncertainty should continue. The fact is that whichever form of ownership makes this industry most truly the servant of the nation is the best form, whether in peace or war. We believe that public ownership is the proper solution, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have admitted that this debate is not concerned with the principle, but only with the date on which it should he implemented. We believe that because 1865 that is so, our defence needs make it, if anything, the more desirable to proceed at once.
Those three main Opposition arguments—on national unity, on the size of the majority, and on defence—are, I submit to the House, shown to have very little validity in fact or in common sense, and I am bound to do what the right hon. Gentleman did, which is to speculate a little about the motives which have lain behind the putting down of this Amendment. We all know, from what the right hon. Gentleman has admitted already this evening, that he is going to be in a difficulty over mandates and over keeping his promises. But there is one promise which he is clearly determined to keep—and I hope the Liberal Party have got it well in mind—a promise which he gave his supporters at Blackpool and one which he is doing everything possible to remember, that one more heave would return him to power. That is fair enough, but let no one in the House who goes into the Lobbies this evening be in the slightest doubt about the real motives of the Leader of the Opposition. He is not interested in iron and steel; he is interested in No. 10, Downing Stret.
The final point which has been repeatedly made by hon. Members opposite is that the industry has done very well. My right hon. Friend said, and it is within the knowledge of the whole House, that Members of the Government have never been backward in pointing that out or in giving credit for it where they believed credit was due. But my right hon. Friend
§ the Minister of Supply argued very clearly in an earlier debate that the Government have no great confidence that the industry would respond in all circumstances so well to the national needs. Since 1945, in what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East, called a sunny economic climate with an insatiable consumer demand, full employment and high profits, the interests of the shareholders and of the public have indeed coincided. But we do not have to look back very far to find that in times of slump this industry finds it well nigh impossible to resolve the conflicting rights of the shareholders and of the nation.
§ Mr. Freeman
However carefully we may plan—all of us; I assume it is joint and agreed between us—to prevent those times from returning, we cannot overlook the possibility. We have been taunted by the right hon. Gentleman with acts of partisan spite. This Measure is not a revenge for what we in the Labour Party regard as the tragedy of Jarrow, but it is one of the instruments of our determination that, come what may, that tragedy shall not be repeated. Therefore, I ask the House to reject this ridiculous Amendment with the contempt that it deserves.
§ Question put "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 308: Noes, 298.1871
|Division No. 31.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Bowles, F G. (Nuneaton)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Adams, Richard||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Crawley, A.|
|Albu, A. H.||Brockway, A. Fenner||Crosland, C. A. R.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Crossman, R. H. S.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Cullen, Mrs. A.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Broughton, Dr A. D. D.||Daines, P.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Brown, George (Belper)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon C. R.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Darling, G. (Hillsboro')|
|Awbery, S. S.||Burke, W. A.||Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Burton, Miss E.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Butler, H. W. Hackney. S||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Baird, J.||Callaghan, James||Davies, S O. (Merthyr)|
|Balfour, A.||Carmichael, James.||de Freitas, Geoffrey.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A J.||Castle, Mrs B. A.||Deer, G.|
|Bartley, P.||Champion, A. J.||Diamond, J.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon F. J.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Benn, Hon A. N. Wedgwood||Clunie, J.||Donnelly, D|
|Benson, G||Cocks, F. S.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Beswick, F.||Coldrick, W.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W Bromwich)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Collick, P.||Dye, S.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Collindridge, F.||Ede. Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Cook, T. F.||Edelman, M.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough) W.||Edwards, John (Brighouse).|
|Boardman, H.||Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)|
|Booth, A.||Corbet, Mrs, F. K. (Peckham)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Cove, W. G.||Evans Albert (Islington. S. W.)|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lee, F. (Newton)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Ewart, R.||Lever, L. M (Ardwick)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Fairhurst, F.||Lever, N. H. (Cheetham)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.)||Royle, C.|
|Field, Capt, W. J.||Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Finch, H. J.||Lindgren, G. S.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir. H.|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Follick, M.||Logan, D. G.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Foot, M. M.||Longden, F. (Small Heath)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Forman, J. C.||McAllister, G.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||MacColl, J. E.||Simmons C. J.|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||McGhee, H. G.||Slater, J.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||McGovern, J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McInnes, J.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham S.)|
|Ganley, Mrs. G. S.||Mack, J. D.||Snow, J. W.|
|Gibson, C. W.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gilzean, A.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir. F.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McLeavy, F.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Gooch, E. G.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Steele, T.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Rossendale)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||Manuel, A. C.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hale, J. (Rochdale)||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Master, F.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||Middleton, Mrs. L||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. W. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Mitchison, G. R.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hannan, W.||Moeran, E. W.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hardman, D. R.||Monslow, W.||Timmons, J.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Moody, A. S.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Hargreaves, A.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Tomney, F.|
|Harrison, J.||Morley, R.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Ungoed-Thomas, A. L.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Usborne, Henry|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Mort, D. L||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Moyle, A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hewitson, Capt M.||Mulley, F. W.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Murray, J. D.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Holman, P.||Nally, W.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Neal, H.||Weitzman, D.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Hoy, J.||O'Brien, T.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Hubbard, T.||Oldfield, W. H.||West, D. G.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Oliver, G. H.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Orbach, M,||White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Padley, W. E.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Hughes, Moelwyn (Islington, N.)||Paget, R. T.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)||Wigg, George|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pannell, T. C.||Wilkes, L.|
|Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Parker, J.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Janner, B||Paton, J.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Pearson, A||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Jeger, G. (Goole)||Peart, T. F.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S)||Poole, Cecil||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Jenkins, R. H.||Popplewell, E.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Porter, G.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Price, M. Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Proctor, W. T.||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Pryde, D. J.||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Pursey, Commander H.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)||Rankin, J.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon A.|
|Keenan, W.||Rees, Mrs. D.||Woods, Rev. G. S.|
|Kenyon, C.||Reeves, J.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Yates, V. F.|
|King, H. M.||Reid, W. (Camlachie)||Younger, Hon Kenneth.|
|Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E.||Rhodes, H.|
|Kinley, J.||Richards, R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.||Robens, A.||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Delargy.|
|Lang, Rev. G.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Baldwin, A. E.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Banks, Col. C.|
|Amery, J. (Preston, N.)||Astor, Hon. M.||Baxter, A. B.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Baker, P.||Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Baldock J. M.||Bell, R. M.|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Maude, J C (Exeter)|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Harden, J. R. E.||Maudling, R.|
|Bennett, W. G. (Woodside)||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Medlicott, Brigadier F.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Liverpool, Toxteth)||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Birch, Nigel||Harris, R. R. (Heston)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvey, Air Codre, A. V. (Macclesfield)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.|
|Black, C. W.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Harvie-Watt, Sir. G. S.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S (Cirencester)|
|Boothby, R.||Hay, John||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Nabarro, G.|
|Bowen, R.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Nicholls, H.|
|Bower, N.||Heald, L. F.||Nicholson, G.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Heath, E. R.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Noble, Comdr. A. H.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Braine, B.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt Col. W.||Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)||Odey, G. W.|
|Brooke, H (Hampstead)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir. H.|
|Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Hirst, Geoffrey.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hollis, M. C.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Holmes, Sir J Stanley (Harwich)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E||Hope, Lord J.||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Burden, Squadron Leader F. A.||Hopkinson, H. L. D'A.||Osborne, C.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Carr. Robert (Mitcham)||Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Channon, H||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Powell, J Enoch|
|Clarke. Col R. S. (East Grinstead)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Clarke, Brig T. H. (Portsmouth. W.)||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Clyde, J. L.||Hurd, A. R.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Colegate, A.||Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Hyde, H. M.||Rayner, Brigadier R.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Redmayne, M.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U (Ludlow)||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Jennings, R.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Johnson, Howard S. (Kemptown)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Crookshank, Capt, Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Robertson, Sir D. (Caithness)|
|Crouch. R. F.||Kaberry, D.||Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Crowder, F. P. (Ruislip—Northwood)||Keeling, E. H.||Robson-Brown, W. (Esher)|
|Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (Finchley)||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Rodgers, J. (Sevenoaks)|
|Cundiff, F. W.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Roper, Sir. H.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Darling, Sir. W. Y (Edinburgh, S.)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Ross, Sir. R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Davidson, Viscountess.||Langford-Holt, J.||Russell, R. S.|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Ryder Capt R. E. D.|
|de Chair, S.||Leather, E. H. C.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|De la Bère, R.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Scott, Donald|
|Digby, S. Wingfield.||Lindsay, Martin.||Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Linstead, H. N.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir. W.|
|Donner, P. W.||Llewellyn, D.||Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)|
|Dugdale, Maj Sir T (Richmond)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Longden, G. J. M. (Herts, S. W.)||Soames, Capt, C.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Low, A. R. W.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Eccles D. M.||Lucas, Major Sir J. (Portsmouth, S.)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col Rt. Hon Walter||Lucas-Tooth, Sir. H.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. R. (N. Fylde)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Fisher, Nigel||McAdden, S. J.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||McCallum, Maj. D.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife. E.)|
|Fort, R.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Foster, J. G.||Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)||Storey, S.|
|Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||McKibbin, A.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Gage, C. H.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Summers, G. S.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr T. D. (Pollok)||Maclean, F. H. R.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D (Hillhead)||MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Gammans, L. D||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Teeling, William|
|Garner-Evans. E. H. (Denbigh)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Teevan, L. T.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thompson, K. P. (Walton)|
|Glyn, Sir R||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon W.)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Martowe, A. A. H.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||Marples, A. E.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. H.|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Grimond, J||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Tilney, John|
|Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)||Maude, A. E. U. (Ealing, S)||Touche, G. C.|
|Turner, H. F. L.||Ward, Hon. G. R. (Worcester)||Wills, G.|
|Turton, R. H.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Tweedsmuir, Lady||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Eart|
|Vane, W. M. F.||Watkinson, H.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Webbe, Sir H. (London)||York, C.|
|Vesper, D. F.||Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)|
|Wade, D. W.||White, J. Baker (Canterb'l'y)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Wakefield, E. B. (Derbyshire, W.)||Williams, C (Torquay)||Mr. Drewe and|
|Wakefield, Sir W. W. (St. Marylebone)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||Brigadier Mackeson|
|Walker-Smith, D. C.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E.)|
Question put. and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Committee Tomorrow.