§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, after "day," to insert:(being a day not before the expiration of a period of twelve months beginning with the passing of this Act).Before saying anything further about this Amendment, I should be exceedingly grateful if you, Sir Charles, would allow me to explain to you and the Committee the course which the Opposition propose to take in moving and voting on this Amendment and other Amendments. If I am permitted to do that, it may save time later on. The Committee is aware that an arrangement has been come to by which we propose to try to condense our discussion on the Committee stage of this Bill to eight and a half days. We agreed to that not because we thought that this period was sufficient for this important Measure, which in our opinion will have serious effects on this great industry, but because we were threatened, as an alternative, with a Guillotine and a much shorter time.
We chose the lesser evil, but in such an arrangement, which is a kind of voluntary Guillotine, there is an underlying assumption that the Opposition shall receive the co-operation of the Government and their supporters in affording Opposition speakers a sufficient share of the limited time available to advocate effectively the points embodied in their many Amendments.
We believe that with good will it will be possible to complete a fair examination of this Bill in its Committee and Report stages in the allotted time, although in a far more cursory way than we would have liked. When I say "good will" I refer to good will in arranging the debates—not good will towards the Bill itself, because the more 1022 we examine it, together with some of the almost incredible Amendments which have been put down recently by the Government, the worse does this Bill appear. If, therefore, the speeches and debates on our Amendments are brief; if we forgo altogether the right of moving some of our Amendments, and if we often refrain from voting on them, the Government and the country should understand that this will be solely due to limitations on our time and not because of any lack of conviction about the value and importance of our Amendments or of our detestation of the Bill as a whole.
Coming to the Amendment which I have just moved, we have put it down for two purposes. First, we want to discover what are the Government's intentions in naming the appointed day and secondly, to express our view about the need for a reasonable interval between the passage of the Bill and the naming of the appointed day. What sort of time-table does the Minister envisage? I think the House will be interested to know—and I am sure the industry will want to know—how long an interval he expects to elapse between the passage of this Bill, assuming it passes all its stages, and its being put into effect.
On the appointed day the Board which is to be set up under this Bill assumes all its responsibilities, and all the property rights, obligations and liabilities of the Agency start from that day. It is therefore clear that before the appointed day the Board and the Agency will have to be appointed, and both those bodies must come into existence and all the preparations will have to be made for them to assume their responsibilities without difficulty or friction. That means that individuals will have to be selected and approached. I assume—and I should like the view of the right hon. Gentleman on this point—that no individuals will be approached before the Bill has had its Third Reading and has received the Royal Assent.
During the passage of the Transport Bill in 1947, great indignation was aroused on the part of some Conservative Members when it was alleged that the then Minister of Transport had already approached certain individuals to sit on the Transport Commission. That was not true and it was denied; but many 1023 Conservative Members believed it to be true and stated that it was wholly improper that anything of that sort should be done. I therefore assume that the right hon. Gentleman will not make any approaches or select any individuals to sit on either of these two bodies before this Bill receives its Third Reading.
When he has selected those individuals, they will have to be approached; terms of service will have to be fixed up, and physical arrangements made and staff engaged. The members of those bodies will have to survey the situation and familiarise themselves with all the problems, many of them day-to-day ones, with which they will have to deal. It is obvious that there must be some gap, and I should have thought it would be a gap of many months before they would be in a position to take over the obligations which will fall upon them without precipitously upsetting the apple-cart and disrupting the iron and steel industry. On those grounds there must obviously be some delay, and I should have thought that it would be a considerable one.
There is another argument for a considerable delay between the Royal Assent to this Bill and the naming of the appointed day. This is an argument which was advanced very forcibly by Conservative Members, particularly by the Front Bench of the Conservative Party, during the passage of our Bill through Parliament, when we were considering on what day the take-over of the iron and steel industry should take place. At that stage the Conservative Party, through its spokesmen on the Front Bench, advocated that there should be a very considerable delay between the passage of the Bill and the take-over of the industry by the Corporation. Later on, as I shall show in a moment, they suggested that there should be an even greater delay before the transfer of the iron and steel industry to the public took place.
When we were discussing this matter in March, 1950, in the debate on the Gracious Speech, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Colonial Secretary moved an Amendment demanding a long delay before the Iron and Steel Act—which had been passed in the previous Parliament and had received its Third 1024 Reading and the Royal Assent—was put into effect. He demanded an undertaking that the vesting date should be postponed until nine months after the following election, at the very earliest. That was a very long postponement when one remembers that the following election took place in October, 1951. That postponement would have worked out at 28 months altogether—two and a quarter years.
We thought that such a long postponement was unreasonable and resisted it; but he advocated it on behalf of the Conservative Party—on what grounds? It was because the party in power at that time had, in his own words, "so exiguous a majority." Is not the situation today very much the same? The Government have a very small majority indeed—slightly more than we had, but a very small one, and the political situation is exceedingly uncertain.
The right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, believing that it was undesirable that there should be any serious disturbance in the iron and steel industry by any action which might be reversed in a year's time if there were an election and the Conservative Party were victorious, demanded that there should be no such unnecessary and fruitless disturbance. We are in the same situation today.
Before I develop that argument further, I want to remind the Committee of the attitude of the Labour Party when there was a Labour Government, and the interval which we thought it was proper, right and decent should elapse between the passage of the Iron and Steel Bill and its date of implementation. We expected the Bill to pass in the summer of 1949 and we proposed that the earliest possible take-over date should be nine months later.
But the party opposite insisted in another place that the take-over date should be postponed until 1st July, 1951–18 months after the passage of the Third Reading which eventually took place, not in the summer of 1949 but in November, 1949. They demanded that there should be a gap of 18 months before the Bill should be implemented after its Third Reading. In fact, we did not accept that suggestion in full. We compromised with 1st January, and in effect made a gap of 13 months between the 1025 passage of the Bill through Parliament and the Royal Assent, and the date of its implementation.
So the party opposite demanded that there should be an interval in one case of 18 months and in another case of two and a quarter years. We think that the period which they demanded for consideration and preparation of the matter was too long. We are asking for a period of 12 months only. We say, however, that the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, and who was at that time speaking for the whole of the Conservative Party when he made that demand and put forward those arguments, was either making a bad case and talking nonsense—the Government must decide—or he was talking sense and putting forward serious and worth-while arguments in which the Conservative Party believes, in which case they must concede our case today and accept this Amendment.
I should like also to point out that the situation today is very different from that on the day when this Bill was introduced. This Bill was introduced on the assumption—we heard this in a number of speeches, including speeches by the Minister of Supply and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that this was a Bill which was likely to be a compromise and which would not be vehemently opposed by the Labour Party, that we would not regard it as such a bad Bill and think it necessary to reverse it at the first possible opportunity. In those circumstances, it was reasonable to suggest that here was a Bill which, as it was not going to be upset, the Government should put it into effect by general agreement at an early date.
It has been made abundantly clear to the Government and to the country that, in our view, this Bill violates all the principles for which we stand. It removes this basic industry from effective Parliamentary and public control, and it makes the search for private profit rather than the public interest the main dynamic of the industry. We are determined to reverse this Bill and the consequences which may flow from it at the first possible opportunity. Surely in these new circumstances it would be far wiser for the Government, in the interests of the steel industry itself, to wait a little bit.
1026 We suggest 12 months. That is a period nothing like as long as the Conservatives suggested in similar circumstances. We suggest that we should wait a bit and see what the political climate may be at that time. There may be—we do not know—an election by then. There may be one pending. If there is an election, in our opinion there is a probability and almost a certainty—hon. Members opposite may have a different opinion—that there will be a different Government when the election is over. We must all agree that there is a possibility that that will happen, even if the party opposite will not go as far as I do in that matter.
If that should happen—it is a possibility which must be accepted—it means that this Bill will be reversed. The whole thing will have to be reconsidered, including the structure established under it, and the many transactions which will have taken place under this Bill will have to be reversed. Nothing but unfortunate and evil consequences will flow to those who have bought the steel concerns, if any are found to buy them. Of course, evil consequences will flow to the industry itself by this temporary transfer of some of its plants from public to private ownership. The structure under which the industry is today working exceedingly well will have been damaged, and all sorts of disturbance and unfortunate and had consequences will have taken place.
If the Minister of Supply were able to say, "It is really urgent that something should be done about the steel industry; it is suffering, it is being damaged because of the present set-up under nationalisation, and some remedy must quickly be found for faults which reveal themselves," there might be some case for saying that we must have some early action and make the change-over in a few months' time. But the Committee know perfectly well that the Minister of Supply has not said that, because he is not able to say it. He has not been able to expose or suggest one single point where the industry is suffering today under the nationalisation set-up.
Indeed, the Committee and the country know that today the industry, so far from being in a bad way, is in a very good 1027 way. Its output is high and it is rising. It is making money; it is making larger profits than ever before in its history. Therefore, no possible case could be made for any urgency in this matter. So we say to the Government, "For Heaven's sake do not rush in and disturb this industry which is doing so well, or even disturb a part of it in a hurry. Let well alone for the time being."
If the Government are determined, as we know they are, to make this transfer from public to private ownership, they are the Government of the day, and it is right that they should make their decisions on matters of public policy and take the consequences. But we are entitled to say to them that, having taken that decision which to us is a most regrettable one, it is reasonable on all grounds that they should take their time, that they should take a reasonable time on both technical and organisational grounds as well as on the other grounds which I have developed, before they make this transfer effective.
We are suggesting a time which is much less than was suggested in similar, indeed almost identical circumstances by the Conservative Party when they were in opposition. We ask them to avoid making fundamental changes in this basic industry upon which so much of our prosperity depends—fundamental changes which they and everybody else know perfectly well may be repealed a few months later if such changes are made during the next year.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters: "Follow the advice of your leaders when they spoke for your party two years' ago, in 1950, when they advocated a reasonable interval before the change took place. Follow their advice today." We do not ask them to follow the advice to the length they went, because we think they were unreasonable in demanding a delay of two and a quarter years between the Royal Assent and the transfer of the property, but we do say that it is right and proper, and, for the reasons I have given. wholly desirable, that there should be a reasonable period. We suggest the period of 12 months which is in the Amendment; and in the hope, but not in great confidence, that this Amendment will be accepted by the Government, I commend it to the Committee.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
I listened to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) with considerable interest. He made what I thought was a very persuasive case for some delay in the selection of the appointed day and he called in aid a number of points which seemed almost indisputable.
We always look upon the party opposite as much more adept in matters of nationalisation than we can be ourselves, and in considering whether the Government have made a good case I must cast my mind back to a similar occasion when I found myself making very much the same speech as that made today by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall—although I made it far less eloquently—in connection with the vesting day for the coal industry. Here again, we were faced with a decision as to how the vesting day should be decided, and something of the same circumstances arose.
§ Colonel Lancaster
The right hon. Gentleman claims that we have had a very good year in the steel industry. It so happens that 1946 was, with one exception, the best we have had in the coal industry since the war. We were not doing so badly. We said, "Be sensible about this. Give some reasonable delay, in this case only a matter of a few months." We felt that enthusiasm for nationalisation was not a continuing process and that if we were to get the best effect we should select vesting day at a time when we could most appropriately hand over the industry in most suitable circumstances.
What was the answer given by the then Government? They gave six weeks—six weeks for a far larger industry, a far more involved, far more intricate, industry, containing far more men, far more management. They gave six weeks for the handing over of that great industry. We heard the right hon. Gentleman say that there would have to be consultation with the people to be appointed to take up managerial posts in the new circumstances—and that, of course, takes time. How much time was allowed in the case of the coal industry? 1029 Perhaps I may give one personal experience. My staff were destined to take over rather more than a quarter of the production of coal in this country. Within a period of six weeks every one of those appointments had been made. For a large number of years I had been in charge of that staff, but not a single question was put to me about their abilities, about where they might be placed or where they would give the best value to the nation. Nothing of that sort was done. I am not asking that we should repeat that sort of error, but at least we have the right to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the light of his experience, he has come to the conclusion that that procedure is absurd.
If these decisions are to be made, time is needed. There must be a reasonable interval in which decisions of a far-reaching nature are made. I do not know what is in the Minister's mind. Certainly my sympathy goes towards a reasonable period of delay; it may be less than 12 months, but I do not know. I hope we shall have no repetition of what occurred some six years ago, and I, and no doubt many others, would like to hear the right hon. Member for Vauxhall say that, in the light of their experience, his party recognise that what was done on that occasion was both inimical to the industry and a very foolish action.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I want to underline one or two of the things said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) stressed the fact that a number of things will have to be done. First, he said, the Board will have to be appointed, the Agency will have to be appointed, individuals will have to be found and certain physical arrangements will have to be made. Surely that is an argument for the wording of the Bill as it stands. Surely the essence of those arrangements is the uncertainty of time. It seems to me that the very arguments of the right hon. Gentleman are sound grounds for leaving the matter to the Minister, who will know quite well whether he has succeeded in finding the members of the Board and the Agency and in making the physical rearrangements.
1030 The right hon. Gentleman recalled that the Conservatives advocated a delay in the take-over of the industry by the Corporation; but I respectfully submit that present circumstances are entirely different from those at the time of the Labour Government's Bill. In the first place, that Bill was plunging into the industrial unknown; it was something entirely new for this industry. The then Government were departing from the accumulated experience of a century or more and were exploring new fields of industrial management in this industry.
This Bill, on the other hand, is designed to restore the industry to that charted field of accumulated industrial experience, and it appears to many of us on this side of the Committee that, far from demanding delay, it demands that the industry should be returned to that charted field as soon as possible. Furthermore, it may be said that the industry has been in a turmoil and a condition of uncertainty for very long and that it is not at all desirable that such condition should be prolonged.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I was following with great interest what the hon. Gentleman said. Do I understand that he shares my own opinion—that this Bill means taking the iron and steel industry back to the proved experience between the wars?
§ Mr. Gower
That would be an argument for Second Reading. This Bill is designed, not to take the industry back to the accumulated experience of centuries alone, but rather to take it back to those well-worn channels, modified by the value of the experience of very recent years. I will not repeat the many arguments, both in favour and against the Bill, which were made on Second Reading.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall said, finally, that the Labour Government allowed nine months; that the Conservative Party then wanted 18 months; and that the compromise was 13 months. Surely the machinery of the Bill is entirely different and the scope is entirely different from that of the Labour Government's Bill. The Labour Party, as I have tried to stress, were doing something which was fundamental and which was experimental. We are doing something which has already been proved and tried by the Coalition Government 1031 and which proved its value during the earlier days of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
Has there been any occasion in the hon. Gentleman's knowledge when there has been a de-nationalisation Bill?
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
First of all, I should like to reciprocate what I believe were expressions of good will and co-operation from the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) about the examination, planning and organisation of the debate, although far be it from me to ask for anything more than the cut-and-thrust of debate in dealing with the substance of the Bill. I believe that hon. Members in all parts of the House are happy that the two sides have reached an amicable arrangement about the time-table for the Bill. I am sure this is the proper, orderly way in which to conduct our affairs, and I believe it redounds far better to the credit of Parliament and to the proper and efficient discharge of our business.
The right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Opposition, asked for an adequate share of the time available. I feel sure that that is the wish of all my hon. Friends on this side. The last thing we wish is that at the end of this eight and a half days' discussion there should be any grounds for the Opposition feeling that they have not had a full opportunity of discussing the important issues raised in this Bill. For myself, I quite sincerely believe that eight and a half days, if well used, should be sufficient to enable us to have a very full discussion of all the main issues raised in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman asked for our good will and our co-operation. I feel confident that, on behalf of all my hon. Friends. I can give him that assurance.
Now to turn to the substance of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman asked that there should be a reasonable interval—those were his words—between the passing of this Bill and its being put into effect. Of course, I give him the 1032 assurance straight away that there will be a reasonable interval. Whether we shall agree as to what is a reasonable interval is, of course, another matter. It is not our desire that there should be indecent, unbecoming haste, or that we should rush into an organisation at a rate which would lead to inefficiency or damage to the steel industry; but that does not mean to say that we consider that an interval of 12 months is necessary.
It is perfectly correct, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the Board and the Agency will have to be appointed before the appointed day because on the appointed day the whole machinery which is provided in the Bill conies into operation. The right hon. Gentleman asked that no individuals should be approached before the Royal Assent. I would say to him—and I do not think he is entitled to ask for more—that no commitments will be entered into with anybody before the Royal Assent has been given.
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not know what the hon. and learned Gentleman means. If he agrees, then there is no need to interrupt me.
§ Mr. Mitchison
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain, he cannot enter into commitments under a Bill before it has become an Act of Parliament. His powers to appoint these bodies derive from its being an Act of Parliament, as he knows perfectly well.
§ Mr. Sandys
Then we are agreed.
Now I turn to the point with which the right hon. Gentleman made some play, and that was the request by the Conservative Party in opposition, during the passage of his Measure in 1949, that the then Government should postpone the bringing into operation of the Act until after the General Election. I ask hon. Members opposite to recognise fairly, as I am sure they will, that the circumstances then were totally different from what they are today. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] We were then at the fag end of a Parliament. [Interruption.] I am talking 1033 about 1949, when the Act was passed—1949. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall himself referred to our having asked for the Act not to be brought into operation until after there had been a General Election. That is the point with which I am dealing.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
It may be my fault, but the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. Perhaps, I did not make myself clear. I was talking about the demand by the Conservative Party, voiced specifically by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, after the General Election in March, 1950, when we had five years' office in front of us—March, 1950. It was at that stage, when we had a small majority, as the Conservative Party have now, that he demanded. on behalf of his party, that the take-over date should be postponed until nine months after the next General Election.
§ Mr. Sandys
Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman was referring to that, that is a different point.
§ Mr. Sandys
I think his case there is infinitely weaker than the other. I know only from HANSARD what happened in the 1945 to 1950 Parliament, but I was here in the 1950 to 1951 Parliament and remember the position exactly. What we then objected to most strongly was that the party opposite, as the Government. were bringing into operation an Act of Parliament against which the majority of the electors had voted only about six weeks previously.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Absolute nonsense. Will not the Minister recall the words of the Prime Minister on the efficacy of political manifestos? Does he really think, after all these years' experience of politics, that everybody at a General Election conscientiously votes on one particular issue? Does he not recall the concern in the steel industry, amongst the workers, about this particular Bill?
§ Mr. Sandys
Nobody more than the party opposite has claimed mandates for this and that on the facts that certain policies were stated, in an election manifesto and that subsequently the party was returned with a majority. It is indisputable that, in the 1950 General 1034 Election, the parties who stood in favour, and declared in their manifestos that they were in favour, of de-nationalisation of the iron and steel industry got a majority of votes over the Labour Party, although the latter were returned as the Government. Therefore, there is no doubt that we were justified in feeling strongly—very strongly indeed—on that occasion that it was wrong, and constitutionally improper for the late Government to go ahead with a Measure against the wishes of the electors, declared only a few weeks previously.
We have been accused on a number of occasions during this past year of creating a state of uncertainty in the iron and steel industry. We have been told that we were—and I, in particular, have been accused of—paralysing progress and holding up development as the result of the uncertainty created by the announcement of our policy to de-nationalise the industry. I ask hon. Members who say that, what could be better calculated to create a state of uncertainty or to paralyse progress than the passing of an Act of Parliament and then putting it into cold storage for a whole year?
Let us consider the situation that would arise if that were done. The Corporation would continue for at least a year under sentence of death, in a state of semi-impotence, rather like a retiring American President during the interval between election day and the inauguration of his successor—except that, instead of the interval being a few weeks it would be 12 months.
It is perfectly true that there must be an interval. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Board and the Agency needed time to take over and he urged delay for a year on technical and organisational grounds. I will not say at this stage exactly how long they should need, but a year is certainly not needed. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite are aware that, until the appointed day, neither the Board nor the Agency will have any powers or duties whatsoever. What are they to do sitting there for a whole year without powers or duties? Are they to be learning the job? Presumably we shall pick some people who know something about what they will be asked to do.
In that connection I want to quote some remarks made by the hon. and 1035 learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who has his name to the Amendment, on the Report stage of the Iron and Steel Act, 1949. Then, when it was suggested that there should be a postponement of the bringing into operation of the Bill, he said:Let us suppose that these gentlemen"—they are the members of the Corporation—are appointed and at a reasonably early date. There are suggestions that an embryo Corporation might do something. I cannot see what these gentlemen who already have capacity and experience in the matters on which they have to function are to do. Are they, suppose, to sit there for nine months considering what they are going to do at the end of it? How is their time to be passed? In silent meditation, or in merely twiddling their thumbs in some office or another? Meanwhile, the whole of this industry will be left in an uncertainty for which I see no particular reason."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 436.]That is very pertinent to the present discussion.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
The right hon. Gentleman has asked whether the men on the Agency and the Board are to learn their job. These men are to be appointed by the Treasury, and presumably they will have financial qualifications. However, they will have to manage the steel companies in their charge. How on earth can they learn their job in less than a year?
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
In the spirit of good will and amity in which I propose to speak—[Interruption.] Yes, I was brought up in industry to learn the value of negotiation in direct form and that the waving of big sticks does not get one anywhere—might I ask whether it is not a fact that there would be no need at all for the Steel Corporation being, as the right hon. Gentleman described it, in a state of semi-paralysis had it not been for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself put upon it a standstill order?
§ Mr. Sandys
I thought we had already dealt with that point. It has been raised every time steel has been discussed in the House, and that is often enough in the last 12 months. If the hon. Gentleman 1036 wishes me to remind him of the facts once more, I hope he will remember them this time; I have explained them so often to the House.
No standstill order whatsoever has ever been imposed on the steel industry. Having regard to the fact that a new Government had come into office with a new policy, what I did was to give a direction to the Corporation saying that I wished to be consulted before it took action on certain matters. I never said that the Corporation was not to do those things. In more than nine cases out of 10—I think two cases are pending—where it has asked for my approval, I have readily given it. It is absurd to say that there has been a hold-up of any kind. In any case, the direction which I gave had nothing whatsoever to do with the development or the progress of the industry but was concerned purely with the financial structure of the companies and the composition of their boards. It is absurd to say that a standstill has been imposed by the Government.
There is one point that I want to make clear. I want to remind the Committee that there should be no confusion between the setting up of the Board and the Agency and the fixing of the appointed day, and the transfer of the industry to free enterprise. The setting up of the organisation and the actual selling of companies by the Agency are two entirely separate operations. It is not a very complicated matter to transfer the holdings in steel companies from one public body, the Corporation, to another public body, the Agency. It is quite different from the compulsory acquisition of all the shares which had to take place before the Corporation could get going. and, equally, it is quite different from the selling of the shares to the public, which will be the duty of the Agency. This, as we have already frankly said, will take a considerable period of time.
The Amendment, as I see it—I do not object to it—has one purpose. In Parliamentary life, if one does not like something and one cannot stop it, the next best thing is to try to delay it; that is undoubtedly the purpose of the Amendment. It is understandable, and we take no exception to it, but the Opposition will hardly expect the Government to support it. 1037 The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no urgency; we cannot agree that there is no urgency. If a decision of this importance, affecting a great industry, has been taken by Parliament, it seems only right and proper, natural and efficient that the decision should be implemented as soon as practicable. In saying this I am greatly fortified by some remarks of the right hon. Gentleman himself on a very similar occasion. We shall probably have a lot of fun in this way during the course of the Bill. I think I should draw his attention to the following remarks which he made:It is highly desirable to cut down, as far as is practicably possible, the period of suspense, uncertainty and unsettlement between the date of the Royal Assent and the date of transfer of these companies to the new Corporation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 428.]The right hon. Gentleman said that we had been asked to follow the advice of the Conservative leaders in Opposition. I ask him to follow his own advice when he was in office.
I would remind him of something else which he said in Committee on the earlier Bill. I will not weary him with any more quotations from his speeches, but he then said:… it is in the interests of the industry itself that the vesting date should take place reasonably quickly, and as soon as practicable. There should not be one month's delay longer than is necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 26th January, 1949; c. 523.]Having quoted that, I feel we are unable to accept the Amendment. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept, in a good mood and good temper, the view that what was then sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I do not propose to controvert the right hon. Gentleman's speech, although I am very much tempted to do so, but there is a question of time and we want to go on to other Amendments. I merely rise to ask him whether he will be a little more specific on the major point of the delay which is likely to take place between the passage of the Bill and the appointed day. At the beginning of his speech, I thought he was going to give us some indication of how long that was likely to be. I do not ask him to be specific, but it would be very interesting to know whether the delay is likely to be three, six or nine months or 1038 what the gap is that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. Sandys
I stand by the principle enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman. to which I have just referred. There should be no more delay than is absolutely necessary. On the other hand, we should not hurry the thing to a point where any damage would be done to the industry. I do not think that I should be committed, any more than the right hon. Gentleman felt that he should be committed in similar circumstances, and I am sure that in his heart he will agree with me entirely, although I know perfectly well that it is difficult for him to say so.
§ Mr. Strauss
We were committed. We said that the transfer would take place at least nine months after the passage of the Bill, at the earliest, and all that I am asking—and I think that the industry and the country will want to know this—is the sort of period which the Minister has in mind. Is it likely to be one month or six months? I do not ask him to be specific.
§ Mr. Sandys
Provided the right hon. Gentleman does not ask me to be committed, that is all right. Our view is that we want to do this as quickly as is reasonably possible without damage to the industry, and we think that the quicker this operation can be carried through, and the quicker the new organisation can be set up, the better. Since he asks me, I would say: weeks and not months.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
This is important. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given is completely unsatisfactory to the extent that no idea has been given to us of when this will take place within 12 months. There is one particular point which some of us have in mind. The Iron and Steel Corporation will be presenting, we presume, a report which, if it is a 12 months' working report, will bring us to next August. May we assume that we shall at least get a 12 months' report—the first and complete 12 months' report of the Iron and Steel Corporation—before the vesting date?
§ Mr. Sandys
That issue arises on the Schedule, and perhaps we may postpone the discussion of it until then.
§ Amendment negatived.1039
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, after "1949," to insert:save subsections (1) to (3), subsection (4) except paragraph (c) thereof, and subsections (5) to (16) of section six of the said Act (which relates to the appointment, duties and powers of the Iron and Steel Consumers' Council).I think it might be convenient if we discussed this Amendment and the next two Amendments together.
§ The Chairman
I think we might discuss this Amendment and the next three Amendments together:
In page 1, line 12, leave out "and," and insert:(b) the said section six shall have effect as though for the words "general date of transfer" there were substituted the words "appointed day," as though for references to "the Corporation" there were substituted references to the Iron and Steel Board constituted under Part II of this Act and as though for the words "that publicly-owned companies" there were substituted the words "iron and steel producers," and.In page 2, line 1, leave out "(b)," and insert "(c) save as aforesaid."
In page 2, line 2, leave out "that," and insert "the appointed."
§ Mr. Lee
This Amendment is an attempt to save the Iron and Steel Consumers' Council from the general wreck. In considering this point, the Committee should, I think, appreciate the background against which the Council have worked. The Council were appointed in July, 1951, and their one and only report shows that between that date and September, 1952, they met on five occasions. They met to discuss some quite serious business which had been submitted to them by a number of organisations—the Stainless Steel Fabricators' Association of Great Britain: the Reinforced Concrete Association; the Association of British Chambers of Commerce; the Engineering Industries Association; and various steel consuming interests in Scotland.
I believe that the principal job of the Council, as laid down in the 1949 Act, was that the Council were to assist in the efficient distribution of steel and to concern themselves with fair and proper prices to the consumers of steel. Because of the shortages of imported steel scrap which were manifest in 1951, when, I think only about one-quarter of the amount which we managed to import in 1040 each of the two preceding years was available to us, the Labour Government decided to reintroduce the steel distribution scheme.
Following the General Election, the present Government had to be reminded of the need for the introduction of this scheme by the Consumers' Council. On 20th November, 1951, the Government made an Iron and Steel Distribution Order. Under the Order, the Government became responsible for the allocation of steel to consumers in the different industries. In other words, a great part of the Council's work was thus properly, but, nevertheless, quite definitely, taken from them. The Maximum Prices Order had also been made by the Ministry of Supply, and, even before the first meeting of the Council could take place, the present Government had announced their intention of annulling the 1949 Act altogether.
I paint that picture to show quite clearly that the conditions which obtained then were the exact opposite to those which the Government now wish to create under private enterprise. The position was that the distribution of steel was undertaken by the Government, the price of steel was fixed by the Government, and the present Government had already declared its intention of getting rid of the Council by annulling the 1949 Act.
The Government and their party supporters never tire of telling us that their aim is to pull down the restriction of a planned economy and to create a free one. [Interruption.] I am glad to get confirmation of that from the other side. This Bill aims to create those conditions in the steel industry. In other words, the ultimate object of the Government is to sweep away the valid restrictions which have been responsible for limiting the work of the Consumers' Council.
The arrangements under the 1949 Act for the creation of a Consumers' Council are of the very greatest value, especially to the small consumer of steel, not, I think, in the creation of the Council itself, but in the fact that quite specific powers were given to the Minister who could direct his personal attention to the needs of each and every particular firm. This, of course, meant enormous Parliamentary protection, especially for small firms. 1041 It may well be that the Minister will want to call in aid the report of the Consumers' Council. Therefore, it is proper that we should consider what they have said. They state in paragraph 9 (a):In November, 1951, your Ministry consulted us informally on a number of matters arising out of the Government's decision to restore to private ownership the sections of the iron and steel industry affected by the Iron and Steel Act, 1949. Most members of the Council felt that they had insufficient knowledge of the iron and steel industry to enable them to give considered answers to most of the questions raised, and that they should, therefore, confine themselves to matters of particular concern to themselves as consumers.I ask the Committee to take particular note of the following words:They expressed the view that if the proposed Iron and Steel Board were to be an advisory body to the Ministry of Supply, it would suffice for strong consumer representation to he included in the Board, but that if the Board were to be constituted with executive powers, there should, in the Council's view, be a separate body representative of consumers to advise the Board.5.0 p.m.
That creates a most peculiar situation. Here we have recommendation from the Consumers' Council themselves that if the Board is to be an advisory body to the Ministry of Supply it would suffice for strong consumer representation to be included in the Board. The Minister may well tell us that in this Bill, he proposes, although he is scrapping the Consumers' Council, to give consumer representation on the Board itself; and the logic of that is that by some means or other this Consumers' Council have formed the impression that the Iron and Steel Board was to be merely an advisory body to the Ministry of Supply.
Let us further examine the report and find where they get that impression. The Consumers' Council say:In January. 1952, you"—they are addressing themselves to the Minister—were good enough to outline to us the duties which it was contemplated would be assigned to the Iron and Steel Board, and we subsequently furnished you with the following comments:'The Council note that it is proposed that the Iron and Steel Board should be a supervisory body with certain executive powers On the information at present before them the Council do not consider that a separate Consumers' Council is necessary provided that there is adequate representation of consumers on the Board.'1042 This impression was given to the Consumers' Council before the Bill had been presented, and by some mystic means or other the Minister had managed to convey the impression to the Consumers' Council that this Board would not have great executive powers but would be an advisory Board to the Ministry of Supply. What a different impression to the one which the right hon. Gentleman has been trying to convey to the House and to the country as a whole. From the moment this Bill was put before us we have heard that this Board was to have enormous powers to control the whole of the steel industry and that it was to curb those activities of private enterprise to which we have objected from this side of the Committee.
Yet it would now appear that the Government are carrying out the very condition of putting consumers on the Board itself, which the Consumers' Council indicated they would support only if it was to be merely an advisory Board and not if it was to have executive power in itself. The Consumers' Council which is now to go out of existence is a body with a chairman and 18 other members. There are seven from the Federation of British Industries, one from the British Chambers of Commerce, one from the motor manufacturers, one from the Engineering Association, two iron and steel stockholders, two from the iron and steel merchants, three from the T.U.C. and two from the nationalised industries.
What are we to get in exchange for a body of that sort? We know that within the Bill the membership of the Steel Board can only be a maximum of 11, plus a chairman. We also know. from Clause 2 (3) of the Bill, that there are at least six qualifications which these gentleman must have to become members of the Board. Therefore, it becomes at once quite obvious that there cannot possibly be adequate consumer representation on a Board of that type. Yet despite the fact that there cannot be adequate consumer representation the Minister proposes to scrap the Consumers' Council.
The party opposite have always claimed, so long as I can remember, to be the party representing the consumers. To prove it they now propose to create the very conditions in which steel consumers most need protection and, at the 1043 same time, to scrap the Consumers' Council. I have said that the Minister may well answer me by saying that there are consumer representatives on the Board. I could reply by saying that there were the same type of representatives on the Board, which he is now destroying, of the present Steel Corporation.
The fact is that none of these gentlemen can sit in that capacity. The small numbers which can be accommodated on the Board cannot hope to represent all the main industrial consumers of steel in these days. They must take their full share of the work of the Board, quite distinct from anything in the nature of defending the consumers themselves.
I make particularly the point that the trade unions in the steel consuming industries are now, perhaps more than ever before, entitled to be heard on questions of the distribution of steel. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how the unions in those industries which consume steel can hope to be represented on his main Board. How can there possibly be representation from all the industries, either from the employers' point of view or from the point of view of the trade unions?
It is a most serious issue so far as we—I speak here for a great number of people who are working within the manufacturing industries—are concerned. It is of vital importance to us to feel that we are adequately represented on a Board which is to discuss where the steel allocations shall go.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Is not the hon. Member pre-supposing that we are to have steel rationing for ever? All of us, I think, hope that it will disappear in the next few months.
§ Mr. Lee
I am glad that the hon. Member has made that point; he is making my case for me very well.
I pointed out that the limiting feature of the usefulness of the Consumers' Council had been the fact that there has been rationing and price control by the Government, and the Consumers' Council knew that it was condemned from the moment it met. The hon. Member makes a very good point. He asks, are we not reaching a period in which we can 1044 look forward to the end of steel rationing? Can we? I agree that that is the objective of the Government, but let us examine the position.
The nearer we approach that situation the greater is the need for the Consumers' Council. I say that because all opinion in this Committee agrees that if we are to redress our balance of payment situation, if we are to be able to live at all in the world, we must increase our engineering and shipbuilding industries, and the mining industry must give us more coal to export. These are the three greatest industrial users of steel. Therefore, the nearer we get to success in increasing our production in those industries the greater will be the competition for the steel that the country can produce.
It is no use for anyone to feel that there is anything in this Bill to show how we can vastly increase the production of steel to meet the increased requirements of the three industries to which I have referred. Much of my case is based on the fact that as those conditions which limited the use of the Consumers' Council disappear so we shall get a situation in which it is essential that all these industries shall have adequate representation—both employers and employees—on a Consumers' Council which will allocate steel supplies in a fair and proper manner. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making the point for me so well.
I am fairly sure that very many employers, especially small employers, in the steel consuming industries are extremely worried now to know how they are to fare once we have the glories of private enterprise again with us, and once the restriction, or "rationing" as the hon. Gentleman called it, has gone and they know that they have to fight again in the pool against the big sharks, who can always be expected to win in the last resort.
I have received today a document called "The Shipbuilding Conference," which has been circulated to hon. Members for our information. Dealing with the prospects for 1953, it says:Everything depends upon the steel supply position. which has been the industry's greatest 'headache' for wellnigh two years. Nothing could be more frustrating than to see orders flowing in at an all-time record rate and to be deprived of essential steel to match that position with an all-out effort in production.1045 They go on to say:British shipyards could have achieved with ease a merchant ship output of at least 1,750,000 gross tons per annum. But, in fact, an average of only about 1,300,000 gross tons has been turned out in recent years because of the shortage, first of one material and then of another, but principally of steel.And add:To those in the Government or elsewhere who guide our industrial destinies the needs of shipbuilding, whether in relation to supplies of scarce raw materials, freedom from restrictions or taxation and fiscal legislation, should be in the forefront of their thinking.They ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can guarantee that shipbuilders will have adequate representation on his Board; if so, should I quote from the opinions in other industries? I have quoted engineering, which is probably 30 or 40 industries rolled into one. Will the mining industry be able to get adequate representation?
I have tried to show that the country's future depends upon our ability greatly to increase our output of steel products. I do not think there is difference on this point among the parties. We all agree. Therefore, there is no conceivable point at which we can believe there can be more steel than those industries require. Indeed, the more successful the Government are in stepping up the production of those commodities the greater the steel shortage will become. The problem of distribution will increase as that process goes on, and competition among steel users will be more and more intense.
I hope that the Government will see that at this period very much depends upon the confidence they can get from the steel consumers. It really is suicidal to take away the power of being able to look into each individual case and redress grievances. It is important for those people to know that around the conference table the representatives of their industries can determine the allocation of steel to each section. Perhaps most important of all is it that my fellow members who are working inside the steel-consuming industries should know that they can agree to bring a large number of people into their industries and can increase production per head, without fearing that they will work themselves into an unemployment queue. The issue is as big as that.
1046 5.15 p.m.
Although the Minister will possibly not agree to alter the basis of his Bill, at least I hope it is common ground beween us that we want to see the production of commodities made from steel increasing every month. Unfortunately, the tendency in industry at present is for that production to go down. The guarantee which a consumer's council can give, working in the conditions which the Minister is trying to bring about, would be far more useful than it has been in the past because of changed economic conditions. It will give industries confidence that their voices can be heard around the table. If the Minister insists upon the destruction of this Consumer's Council, I, and those who have the power to advise my friends, could not possibly guarantee to them that increased production would not mean a return to unemployment.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
I suggest that the Amendment is misconceived in its form and that its purpose can be achieved very much more simply.
The Consumers' Council was in existence for 16 months and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it was operating under disadvantages; but during the whole of that time there were only five references to it by consumers. On the first two of those references the Council took no action. The third of those references was to prices, and the Council took up the question of prices with the Minister and recommended that frequent changes be avoided, especially where the change was small. On the fourth, the Council took no action at all. On the fifth it took no action, but it did say "We shall, however, continue to watch the situation." If that is the total measure of action which was taken by the Consumers' Council I suggest that it is unnecessary to continue it in action.
The matter goes further, because the Consumers' Council itself, an interested body if ever there was one, suggests that it is no longer needed in the Government's scheme. As the hon. Gentleman said, the scheme was evidently outlined to the Council in January, 1952. They said:Having noted that it is proposed that the Iron and Steel Board should be a supervisory body with certain executive powers, on the 1047 information at present before them the Council do not consider that a separate Consumers' Council is necessary, provided there is adequate representation of consumers on the Board.Nor did they ever change their minds, although it is clear from their Report that they have since seen the White Paper.
§ Mr. Simon
The hon. Gentleman read it himself. That was the first time they were consulted, and they gave the information which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
When they saw the Government's scheme they said that they did not consider that a Consumers' Council was necessary. When they saw the White Paper they did not change their opinion, and since that time their report has been published, after the publication of the Bill. Nor did they see any reason to change their minds and their opinion once the Bill was published. The first point they considered was to put consumers' representatives on the Board. The second was that the Board is frequently enjoined in the Bill to consult such representative organisations as they think fit.
I suggest that the neat and sensible way of dealing with this matter is not to keep a complicated and expensive Consumers' Council in being, but so to define representative organisations as to include consumer organisations. Then the Board can, if they think fit, not only have representatives of consumers in their own body, but consult representative organisations of consumers where they think fit.
§ Mr. Mitchison
That was a very interesting speech. If the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) looks through the Amendments on the Order Paper, he will find a number of Amendments from this side of the Committee to the effect that he has just suggested; and we shall welcome him in our Lobby when we divide on those Amendments. Meanwhile, he will find that most of them are in alternative forms, and, of course, which form is 1048 used must depend on what happens to the Consumers' Council that we are now considering.
I am not much interested by people who say, "Oh, so far the Iron and Steel Consumers' Council have not done much": and that is for two reasons. This is not by any means the only consumers' council; there is a very interesting one, for instance, in the gas industry, if hon. Members opposite would like to look into that. Be that as it may, these consumers' councils are new organisations. In the old days, if one had to deal with the iron and steel industry, one could not invoke the aid or the consideration of a consumers' council at all, and this addition to the rights of consumers—as I see it, their very proper rights in an industrial democracy—was made in this case, as in other Acts, by a Labour Government.
It is true that none of the consumers' councils has been used to the extent that some people hoped. They have, however, been used to various degrees, and the reason that they have not been used is in many cases because they have not been sufficiently publicised. It might be said that that is the fault of one Government or another, but there the fact is. Speaking as regards my own constituency, I have had cases—I am sure that other hon. Members have had them, too—in which a constituent has asked for our help when he ought to have gone to the consumers' council, and we, on his behalf, have then done it for him and have found the consumers' council exceedingly useful.
I suggest to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, including the Minister, that they ought to consider this innovation—for it has been an innovation—on its merits, and that they ought not to have too close regard to the extent to which it has been used during the earlier years, when people did not know as much as, no doubt, they ought to know about its existence.
That is a perfectly general plea, but there is a very much more important point about this particular Consumers' Council. I hope that we are not going to have more of the suggestion that because it has not been used under the previous set-up, there is no need for it under the set-up that we are now asked 1049 to authorise. There is every need for it, and I think—and in this I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West—that one of the most remarkable features in the Bill is the extraordinary way in which it entirely omits consultation with consumers in such perfectly obvious cases, for instance, as the importation and distribution of raw materials and iron and steel products, and in connection with new production or improved old production which the Board and the Minister find is unsatisfactory or at present lacking and can in certain circumstances undertake themselves. There is also the connection with new processes, but that, I think, is not as important; it is the other two cases that strike me as glaring instances.
I feel that what the hon. and learned Gentleman said is absolutely right in substance. The consumers' interests and the possibility of consultation with the consumers are grossly neglected in the Bill as presented to the House. The question that we have to consider is whether, as it were, we are to have a patchwork quilt and put in a lot of ad hoc Amendments as we go along, having previously destroyed the perfectly good bed-covering that was provided by the previous Government.
I see no particular reason for first tearing up the old quilt and then proceeding to sew together lots of bits and pieces to make a new one. Why tear the thing up? It is there, as is the need for it. We were told in an interjection that this was all right, and that so much steel was to be produced in a miraculous way, regardless of any question of the capacity of blast furnaces or the supply of scrap or anything of that sort, that there would be no need to ration it or to arrange its distribution.
I hardly think that the Tory Party have gone quite as far as that into the jungle or quite as far, to use another metaphor, down the slope which the Gadarene swine followed a good many years ago; I would not attribute that to them. If I were to do so, it would show a disregard of the importance of our export trade, a complete neglect of dollar difficulties, and a complete failure to realise that there is, after all, some importance in world trade—for nothing is more urgently needed abroad than exports, not only of stuff manufactured from iron and steel, 1050 but, if we can supply it, of the metal itself. There is no lack of prospective customers.
And then we are told that it will be all right, that everybody can have all the iron and steel they want and can have it without restriction. The hon. Member who was rash enough to say that might consider some of the internal difficulties also and reflect on who the consumers are. I see sitting behind him one of the hon. Members who represents a Sheffield constituency. One of the people who have been to the Consumers' Council are the stainless steel organisation. After all, Sheffield, one way and another, is an important consumer of steel—we do not differ about that.
Are we now to reach a happy state of affairs in which we can have all the cutlery we want and at the same time, the councils can have all the pipes they want for drains in rural areas, the shipbuilders can have all the steel they want and the people who are building a reservoir in my constituency can have the steel that they want to make that reservoir without delay? Is all that going to happen? What about the makers of agricultural machinery? I thought that the Tory Party were particularly interested in them and in agriculture. They have been complaining for a long time past that they could not get the steel they wanted and could not get it quickly enough.
Are we really to gamble on the hopeful, credulous optimism of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), and on that somewhat uncertain foundation are we to destroy this very useful piece of administrative machinery? I would rather keep it until we see for certain that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is in this instance, as, no doubt, in others, always right. I see him rising—
§ Mr. Mitchison
I should not have deprived this side of the Committee of any 1051 pearls of wisdom or unwisdom that the hon. Member might have let fall.
If I may continue for a moment, seriously, it is gross folly for ideological prejudice of the Conservative Party to get rid of this piece of machinery till they have given it a proper trial, and until they are sure that under the new dispensation there will be no need for it. At present, as I see it, not only the consuming manufacturers but the actual consumers are concerned. The word is used quite generally in the 1949 Act, and it would cover, for instance, rural local authorities who are very short of tubes and pipes for their water supply, agricultural implement manufacturers, and cases such as I have had in my own constituency where the requirements for special kinds of steel have not been fulfilled.
Before finishing let me dispose of this one short point. If it is to be suggested that representation on the Board is a substitute for the Consumers' Council, I can only say that suggestion will not hold water for a minute, even if it is made by the Consumers' Council itself. The functions of this Board are entirely different, and to have one or two consumers' representatives—and the Minister need not have any—on the Board is no use whatever. There are so many consumers of different types, varying importance and varying size, that to put one or two of them on the Board is no substitute for the Consumers' Council.
It must be remembered that the Board have a job of their own, and that is not the job of representing, as this Council ought to do, the complaints and grievances of consumers. They are supposed to supervise and, we hope, to control the whole industry. What is wanted is not a supervisory body or executive body, but a body which can put forward the complaints of consumers, which can to that extent satisfy the consumers that they are heard, and which can make it certain that they will be heard and attended to. Do not let us destroy the Consumers' Council for the foolish kind of reason that one does not like councils, public bodies, or anything of that sort.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
Hon. Members opposite are expressing undue anxiety about the ending of the Consumers' Council and the operation of the 1052 Bill in this respect. I am satisfied that the Bill is comprehensive enough to cover the doubts hon. Members opposite may have. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) suggested that the qualifications required of the members of the Board precluded representatives of consumers.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but he will agree that there is scope for consumers' representatives on the Board.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I say that there is scope on the Board for representatives of consumers. To suggest that, in practice, these consumers' councils have been effective is not very realistic. In a time of acute shortage the necessity is for some form of rationing, rationalisation and allocation, and at a time when the pressure is greatest, with conflicting interests in the Council, the representatives cancel one another out. With the Board there will be, either through their representatives or through the Board in general, representations from every trade association as users of steel.
The shipbuilding industry, which the hon. Member for Newton mentioned, is quite capable of making effective representations, and public representations, if they feel they are not getting satisfaction. The merchants and smaller companies also have their merchant associations and are quite competent and able to speak with a united voice. Clearly, in neither the public interest nor in the interests of industry generally, the Board would never allow any very small consumer to appear to suffer in any way. It would take great care to see that no situation of that sort arose. Representation of the trade unions is specifically provided for among the members of the Board itself, and other unions could make representations through the trade union representatives on the Board, or could make united representations to the Board collectively.
In practice, I believe this will work out extremely well. Before very long we shall have not a shortage of steel but good supplies of steel, and what we shall 1053 want is representations about the qualities of steel, and about changes in types of steel. Those things cannot be done by a hotch-potch body called a Consumers' Council. Those representations are far better made by a trade association experienced in what they are doing, knowing the problems confronting them, who should be able to present those problems to the proper people without some third intermediary body. In this industry we want efficiency, and not additional fringes to the coverlet or quilt, about which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) spoke. This Bill is comprehensive and provides all the cover required, and hon. Members opposite need have no anxiety.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) has shown rather touching confidence in boards which have powers in thinking that in no circumstances will a board such as that to be set up under this Bill allow injustice to be done to small men.
We on this side are very jealous of the rights of ordinary men. We dislike the irresponsible exercise of power and of monopoly, and whenever either economic necessity or the rapaciousness of those people who are mostly represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite compel us to have a board of this nature, or a monopoly of any sort, we like to see such safeguards and checks on that monopoly and that board as will render the position of ordinary, small men at least as free as it was under the conditions when there was merely irresponsible monopoly or free competition.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
Would all those indictments apply also to the National Coal Board? Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say sincerely that the Consumers' Council connected with the Coal Board is working effectively and satisfactorily?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I say that we dislike irresponsible monopoly, and we did our best to set up safeguards against that monopoly. if they have not worked perfectly, it may well be that they can be improved. But at least we did not cut them out. The Government are attempting to cut out an adequate safeguard, and on one ground only which has been expressed in the Committee, namely, that 1054 the Consumers' Council which was set up with our Corporation has not functioned because few people have applied to it. It is a great compliment to the Corporation we set up if there have been so few complaints.
Other excellent reasons have been advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) why the Consumers' Council has not been applied to more frequently. They are reasons which can be found in the heart of the present Government, and not in the nature of the Consumers' Council.
A new Board is being set up which we all hope will be as good as possible under the conditions under which it is to work, but it would be idle to pretend that there are not the gravest suspicions about what they will do and to whom they will owe their allegiance. Is it not a tragedy, therefore, to take away the Consumers' Council which might help to make this Board as effective as the right hon. Gentleman obviously wants it to be? I hope that he will reconsider his opinion and allow this piece of machinery to stand. The fact that it has not done good work may be because the Corporation now to be destroyed were so careful of their duties. If the Board are as careful of their duties as were the Corporation, the Consumers' Council can be abolished later, but at this time it would be a tragedy to do so.
§ Mr. Nabarro
There was a resemblance between the contribution made by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) and that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in that they both believe in the economics of scarcity and shortage. I doubt whether there is one of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee who does not believe that we may be approaching a period of plenty in iron and steel production.
I want to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was his right hon. Friend who, in 1950, put a stop to the allocation system for iron and steel that had been in force for 10 years, and that he did so for the simple economic reason that supply was exceeding demand.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by my alleged 1055 belief in the economics of shortage and scarcity. I do not think he knows himself and it is safest to say that I totally disagree.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I must apologise to you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, for being led astray by the totally irrelevant speech made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering.
The fact is that consumers' consultative councils are quite impotent in their operations. Since they were misconceived by the party opposite they have served little or no purpose and in the case of every nationalised undertaking that has one, it has a long record of failure to satisfy the consumers.
The Consumers' Council for the steel industry was set up for the same political purpose as the consumers' councils in the other nationalised industries—to dress the shop window, as the hon. Member for Newton said, in the hope that it would impress consumers that the interests of the small man were being safeguarded. In fact, every consumers' council is totally impotent in the face of a monopoly. The one that operates in the electricity industry faces a monopoly. That monopoly rarely or ever heeds a recommendation made by the consumers' council.
The essential difference in the case of the iron and steel industry is that it will not be a monopoly after this Bill reaches the Statute Book. I see that the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) laughs. I doubt whether he has any experience as a steel consumer. I have that experience in industry and can say that at the moment there are steel companies queueing up to sell certain steel products to people who have licences. That state of affairs will spread right through the metal consuming industries, as steel production in this country rises in the course of the next few years.
§ Mr. Nabarro
That is presumptuous in the extreme. We are planning to expand steel production from 17 million tons to 20 million tons in five years, provided the nationalised coal industry produces enough coal. I do not believe that demand will outstrip supply in the iron and steel industry. In any event, the purpose of a consultative council is not to allocate a material in short supply, as the hon. Member for Newton suggested.
§ Mr. Nabarro
In times of stress and shortage it might perhaps have acted in that capacity, but we are approaching a period when supply will exceed demand and, therefore, even that limited purpose of the consultative council would not have any validity.
Now let me turn to the conditions that will obtain after this Bill reaches the Statute Book and after the Consumers' Council has disappeared. If any consumer has difficulty in regard to iron and steel products within any of the metal using industries, surely the legitimate channel for dealing with such matters is the appropriate trade association. I believe that on the Iron and Steel Board there should not be more than one consumer representative. Certainly, no form of consultative council is necessary because the Board are no longer a monopoly. If they were, then, in accordance with the window dressing habits of the party opposite, there might be a remote reason for having a consultative council.
I hope my right hon. Friend will reject these Amendments and not seek to perpetuate a system of consultative councils which have proved useless in the past, which will always be futile in the face of a monopoly and which will have no useful purpose in a free enterprise economy such as my hon. Friends and myself always support.
§ Mr. Sandys
We all agree that we want to see consumer interests properly protected. The question is how we do it. I understand well that the difference between us on this issue is that the party opposite would like to see the Consumers' Council, which was set up under the 1949 Act, maintained under the present legislation, but I did not understand the 1057 arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) in support of his case. It seemed to be based mainly on the fear that, if the Consumers' Council were abolished, the ship-building and other industries which he mentioned would not be able to rely on an adequate allocation of steel.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am glad the hon. Member confirms that. I want to make it clear, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) a moment ago, that it is not the function of a Consumers' Council to allocate steel nor can it, by the very nature of things, play any effective part in the allocation of steel. Of course, a Consumers' Council can bring to the notice of the Government a shortage of steel, but it is not until the consumers are in difficulties that representations are made.
What happens in practice? We have a certain amount of experience so we are no longer talking theoretically about how allocation schemes work. The firm goes straight to the Ministry of Supply or to their sponsoring Department and says. "We are in difficulties and cannot carry out important export or defence orders." The matter is examined with the individual firm. The consultation which takes place between the Government as the allocating authority and the industry is primarily that with individual firms. We do not make allocations in terms of whole industries, but have to decide how many tons are to be allocated to a particular firm in a particular quarter.
When wider consultation is needed it takes place between the Government and the trade association representing that industry. Having a number of people round a table, all representing that industry and knowing its various aspects is a far more effective way of consulting an industry as to its requirements than going to a consumers' council with about 18 members, of whom not necessarily even one will represent the industry concerned.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) also spoke as though the Consumers' Council was mainly concerned, or to a great extent concerned, with steel rationing. He talked about the great danger of derationing steel too soon. He referred to some 1058 announcement, with which I am not familiar, to the effect that steel was to be derationed in a great hurry and likened us to the Gadarene swine. To what did he liken his Government when they derationed steel in May, 1950, and had to announce only a year after that rationing would have to be reintroduced?
§ Mr. Mitchison
Without any further entry into what I may call the pig controversy, the announcement in question came from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I am glad to have the agreement of the Minister that it was unauthorised, premature and unreliable.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order. A most improper allegation was made. I did not say that steel was to be derationed; I said it might be.
§ Mr. Sandys
if my hon. Friend's statement went no further than that I would see no possible exception to it. After all, it is obviously within the bounds of possibility that such a thing might happen. The description of Gadarene swine is rather exaggerated if it applies to a statement of such extreme moderation.
In all parts of the Committee we naturally want to see the interests of consumers protected, particularly in relation to this important industry. But we on this side of the Committee have never been greatly in love with consumers' councils because we have never thought that they provide a really effective means of protecting the interests of consumers. Under the 1949 Act, the Corporation were given a general duty to ensure to consumers an adequate supply of iron and steel products, at reasonable prices. No provision was made in the Act—for reasons which are quite clear—for consumers to be represented on the Corporation Knowledge and experience of the steel consuming industries was not among the qualifications for membership of the Corporation.
That line of thought having been adopted—and I am not quarrelling with it, it is one of the ways in which this problem can be approached—it followed, 1059 not altogether illogically, that it was necessary to set up some body outside the Corporation to represent consumer interests. I do not know that, even under the 1949 Act, a Consumers' Council was necessarily the best way to protect consumer's interests.
But we are not dealing today with the same problem; it is not the problem of a State monopoly in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster pointed out, there are very different conditions. We are considering an industry returned to free enterprise, where competition will be one of the consumer's main safeguards. We are not resting on that alone. In addition to the wider and freer competition which we firmly believe will be created as a result of this legislation, we have decided to provide some specific safeguards for consumers. Two courses were open to us. One was to follow the precedent of the 1949 Act and to create a Consumers' Council, or to appoint consumers to the Board itself.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make this clear to us, because it has a very important bearing on subsequent Amendments and our attitude to certain Clauses in the Bill. Is he now telling the Committee categorically that after the passing of the Bill and after a fair and reasonable time for the Measure to become operative, there will be in the industry a competitive price system to which consumers can go for competitive prices for the same article, analyses and so on?
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member knows the steel industry better than I do; he has spent many years in it. What is quite clear is that we wish to restore, as fully as possible, conditions of free enterprise and free competition within the industry. We all know that this great basic industry is dependent upon a fair number of large plants. Obviously the degree of competition is less than in industries composed of very large numbers of small firms which may spring up in competition with one another. That is one of the fundamental facts of the steel industry which we all recognise.
Because of the nature of the problem we decided that it was necessary, in addition to restoring free enterprise, to pro- 1060 vide certain safeguards in the Bill for protection of consumer interests—
§ Mr. Sandys
I am getting back to where I was when the hon. Member interrupted me and I wish to explain what I have in mind. Perhaps, if the hon. Member is not then satisfied, he will intervene or ask a question. I am explaining what we are doing to protect consumer interests. We had two alternative courses—one to set up a consumers' council and the other to put consumers on the Board. We have followed the precedent of the 1949 Act and published a list of qualifications. Although we have not actually said in the Bill that there must be a consumer on the Board, it is, of course, our intention that there shall be not only one, but more than one consumer among the members of the Board.
We believe that this second course provides a far more effective safeguard for the consumer interest than having an outside body. We think it far better for consumers to be in on the ground floor and have a say in the taking of the Board's decisions rather than merely have the right to make a protest some time afterwards when something detrimental to their interests has happened. We recognise very well that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering was right when he said that there are so many kinds of consumers that two or three consumers on a Board of this kind could not cover the whole of the consumers' industries. But nor can a consumers' council of 18.
As hon. Members will know, the Amendment we have tabled to Clause 31 deals specifically with this point, and, as that Amendment is pertinent to this discussion, perhaps I should explain it. Throughout the Bill a duty has been placed on the Board to consult with what are called representative organisations. Those organisations, as at present defined in the Bill, relate only to organisations representative of producers of iron and steel. What our Amendment does is to extend the interpretation to include the workpeople in the industry, the consuming industries and the producers. Therefore, in this way in a number of vital places in the Bill we are placing upon the Board the duty to consult organisations representing the consuming 1061 interests. We believe that what we propose in the Amendment to Clause 31 will provide a very much more comprehensive method of consultation than would any Consumers' Council.
I now turn to the views expressed by the Consumers' Council. As soon as we came into power we asked certain people in important organisations for their views as to whether we should continue to have a Consumers' Council after the denationalisation of the iron and steel industry. That issue was put to the existing Consumers' Council, and everybody will agree that this was a straightforward way of going about it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) corrected a misapprehension expressed by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) about the interpretation to be based upon the Consumers' Council Report. The sequence of events was that in November we asked the Consumers' Council whether they considered that a Consumers' Council should continue after the de-nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. They wrote back to us to say that the information we had given them was insufficient to enable them to form a final opinion, and, as was to be expected, they gave us a vague answer.
In January, however, we gave the Consumers' Council a much more complete picture of the form which the Bill would take. The Consumers' Council then said that, in their opinion, it would not be necessary to have a Consumers' Council. This opinion was quoted in their Report of December last year. I think it is quite conclusive that, although they had seen the White Paper and the text of the Bill as well as having read the debates in this House on both, they were still of the opinion that, under the system proposed in this Bill, they considered that a Consumers' Council was not necessary.
Although it has already been referred to, I should like to read the relevant sentences of the letter to the Committee. This was the reply of the Consumers' Council which was contained in their Report of last month. It said:The Council note that it is proposed that the Iron and Steel Board should be a supervisory body"—not, as one Member suggested, an advisory body— 1062a supervisory body with certain executive powers. On the information at present before them"—they had the full particulars later—the Council do not consider that a separate Consumers' Council is necessary provided that there is adequate representation of consumers on the Board.They go on to suggest certain representation, I think two out of nine. In point of fact the Board has a maximum of 12, and I think we shall find that the proportion of consumers on it is quite up to that which they had in mind.
These opinions of Consumers' Council fully endorse the view of the Government that the arrangements which we propose will provide more direct representation of consumers' interests and more comprehensive consultation with consumers than the present system. For these reasons, we feel unable to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I should like to make a few comments on the reply which we have had from the Government, a reply which we very much regret. First I should like to say that one of the most remarkable features of the Bill before us is the way in which those responsible for it seem to forget almost entirely the interests of the workers and consumers in this industry. Throughout the Bill, the Board are asked to consult certain representative bodies, but no mention is made either of the consumers' or workers' interests. One of the tasks before us in drafting Amendments to this Bill was to see that both consumers and workers had a say in a number of matters.
I was delighted to hear from the Minister today that he has at last realised that the consumers of iron and steel are important people, and has drafted an Amendment, which we shall have to study carefully, to bring the steel consumers into consultation on various matters. But whether that Amendment is satisfactory or not, we still stand by the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) that the most desirable, the easiest and most effective way of protecting the consumers in the industry is to have a representative council through which their difficulties, complaints and suggestions can be channelled.
1063 I want to say one or two words in addition to what has been said by my hon. Friend. The first is that in the past, when this industry was far freer and more competitive than is the case today, there were constant complaints from consumers about its inefficiency and that it was not concerned with the problems of the consumer. All sorts of complaints were put forward, and one particularly outspoken complaint which will be remembered by hon. Members in all parts of the House was that by Lord Nuffield, who referred to certain aspects of the iron and steel industry. He is a big man and, therefore, he was quoted extensively, quite apart from the rather colourful language that he used which enabled his comments to get into the Press.
Before that there were complaints made constantly by smaller people, about the inefficiency of the industry and the poor way in which they were being served. These complaints may have been right or wrong. I do not know whether they were justified, but until some machinery was set up, such as we proposed under the 1949 Act, there was no proper, effective channel through which consumers could be certain to have their complaints looked into and certain that, if their complaints were justified, action would be taken as a result.
We believe that the setting up of the Consumers' Council under our Measure was one of the most important features of that Measure. It enabled all industries, if they felt something was wrong, to put forward a complaint. It also provided, if the Minister considered the complaint justifiable, for it to be attended to, and the proper action taken. The Minister had the power to take such action wherever he saw there was a good reason for doing so. We therefore regret that this Consumers' Council provided under the 1949 Act is to be abolished.
What does the right hon. Gentleman say he is going to put in place of it? He says, "It is all right. Consumers' councils anyhow, are not much use." That was also the argument put forward by other hon. Members opposite. I do not agree. Six important and responsible trade organisations in this country appealed to the Consumers' Council 1064 which we set up for help and advice, and it is an extraordinary thing to say now that the Council is a body which everyone knows is of no use at all. These important industries did approach the Council on certain matters because they thought the Council was important.
As has been pointed out, and as the Council itself pointed out, a very large part of its work disappeared when the Government brought in the allocation scheme. But that is no reason for saying that the Council was not a valuable and effective body and an important weapon in bringing about greater efficiency in the industry; because this organisation alone enabled the complaints of consumers to be focused and brought to the Board, and for any changes to be effectively brought about by Ministerial direction as a result of a complaint put forward by any consumer, large or small.
The right hon. Gentleman now says, "We have done something far more effective." I should like to deal with that point. He says, "We are going to put one consumer representative, or it may be two, on the Board." I think I speak for all right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the Committee in this respect, when I say that we believe that when a Board is set up to manage an industry—a board of directors, an executive board, a supervisory board to see that the industry develops, and so on—it is wrong in principle, and leads to nothing but conflict, argument and disruption of that body, if conflicting interests are put on it, each of them being there in order to put forward a particular point of view.
For that reason we have always opposed that in the nationalisation Measures which we put forward. In so doing we followed the general practice of industry, that conflicting interests should not be put on a board and thus make it an arena of combat. A board on which this industry is represented, or this worker represented, or this consumer represented, is merely a group of people concerned with special and different purposes. We say that sort of board is a bad one and that it cannot lead to the good results which are to be achieved where everybody on the board is animated by the one purpose of making a success of the undertaking. 1065 If we want this Board to have a single objective, with every member united in the pursuit of that objective, then to put consumer interests, or any other special interests, on it is wrong; and that is exactly what the Minister proposes to do. We think it is one of the stupidest features, but not the most stupid feature, of this Bill.
If we put one or two consumer representatives on the Board, can they really represent the consumers of the iron and steel industry? Incidentally, the Consumers' Council have said they think it would be right, if there were no council for consumers, that there should be two representatives of consumers, two independent members and an independent chairman on the Board. We have not been told definitely whether all those three conditions are to be fulfilled. If they are, I think we should be told. Those were the conditions laid down in the Report. If that is to be so, I think it ought to be stated, possibly in the Bill.
If hon. Members will consider the number of different types of consumers of iron and steel, they will appreciate how impossible it will be for one or two people to represent all those interests. Everything from shipbuilding to the making of toys is affected. There is hardly a single product in this country which has not something to do with iron and steel. Our great engineering industry, the aeroplane industry, the motor industry, tool-making, agricultural implements, pins and needles—every single thing of importance one can think of which is made in this country contains some element of iron and steel, and mostly a big element.
Under our Iron and Steel Consumers' Council, there was an arrangement for sub-committees to represent almost every type of industry which might want to put forward, not necessarily complaints, but suggestions for improvements, so that they might better serve the consumers of any particular category. There would have been, not, I hope, an elaborate, but a simple organisation set up where, not so much individuals—although there might occasionally be individuals—but every group of consumers, however small they might be, would have the opportunity to put forward their case for some improvement in a type of production. It 1066 might be in regard to delivery, or allocation of materials in times of shortage, and so on. Here we are to have two people on the Board who are put there, not for the purpose of the general welfare of the industry, but to protect the consumers; and those two people are supposed to look after all the iron and steel consumers in the country.
§ Mr. Sandys
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, and I might as well answer it now. There will be at least two representatives on the Board. Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes, perhaps he will explain why it is that he brushes aside so simply and sweepingly the fact that the Consumers' Council ought to know their own business. They themselves say that, in the circumstances envisaged in the new Bill, provided there is this kind of representation, they do not consider a Consumers' Council will be necessary. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to make these sweeping accusations, I think he ought to answer that point.
§ Mr. Strauss
I certainly will, and I am grateful to the Minister for telling us he is carrying out the conditions laid down by the Consumers' Council for protecting the consumers.
I was saying that, in my view, it is impossible for two consumer representatives on the Board to protect the interests of the consumers as a whole. I say further that I disagree completely with the view of the Consumers' Council on this matter, and I am entitled to do that. The Council wobbled on this matter. They came to one conclusion which is not in conformity with their next conclusion. They first said—and as my hon. Friend quoted—that if the Iron and Steel Board was to be an advisory body, it would suffice to have a strong consumer representation; but if it was to have executive powers there should be a separate body representative of consumers. I think this is an executive body. It is an important point and I think it is important to ask whether it is an executive body or not; but I think that, according to the decision of the Council, it is an executive body. It follows logically, according to them, that there should be a Consumers' Council established to protect the consumers. I think they were right when they came to that conclusion. 1067 Those are our views. We consider that the consumers are being deprived of protection, and of an organisation which would help to make the industry itself more efficient and more able to help the other industries of this country. For the reason I have given, and for many more which I should like to give had I the time, I say it is regrettable that the Government are unable and unwilling to accept our Amendment.
The consumer is now deprived of the protection of this House; the Minister had direct responsibility to see that the
§ complaint of any consumer was looked into, but now he will be deprived of that right. The consumers will have to rely on one or two people serving on the Board. We consider that is all wrong. We regret deeply the decision of the Government, and we feel bound, without further debate, to vote in favour of this Amendment, and against the Government.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 237: Noes, 260.1071
|Division No. 63.]||AYES||[6.20 p.m|
|Adams, Richard||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Evans, Edwards (Lowestoft)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Fernyhough, E.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Fienburgh, W.||Lipton, Lt.-Cot. M|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Finch, H. J.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Fletcher, Eric (Islington. E.)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Follick, M.||McInnes, J.|
|Baird, J.||Foot, M. M||McLeavy, F.|
|Balfour, A.||Forman, J. C.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Bartley, P.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Bence, C. R.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Mainwaring, W. H|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Gibson, C. W.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Beswick, F.||Glanville, James||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Gooch, E. G||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Manuel, A. C.|
|Blackburn, F.||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Mellish, R. J|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Messer, F.|
|Boardman, H.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon A. G.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Monslow, W.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Moody, A, S.|
|Brockway, A. F||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Morley, R.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hamilton, W. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hannan, W.||Mort, D. L|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hardy, E. A.||Moyle, A.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hargreaves, A.||Mulley, F. W|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Harrison, J.(Nottingham, E.)||Murray, J. D.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hastings, S.||Nally, W.|
|Carmichael, J.||Hayman, F. H.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Oldfield, W. H|
|Champion, A. J.||Herbison, Miss M.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hobson, C. R.||Orbach, M.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Oswald, T.|
|Clunie, J.||Houghton, Douglas||Padley, W. E.|
|Coldrick, W||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Collick, P. H.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pannell, Charles|
|Cove, W. G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paton. J.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Peart, T. F.|
|Grossman, R. H. S.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Popplewell, E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||living, W. J. (Wood Green)||Porter, G.|
|Daines, P||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Janner, B.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Jay, Rt Hon. D. P. T.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Rankin, John|
|Deer, G.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Reeves, J.|
|Delargy, H. J||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Dodds, N N||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Richards, R.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Keenan, W.||Roberts, Albert(Normanton)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Kenyon, C.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||King, Dr. H. M.||Ross, William|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Kinley, J.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Short, E. W.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Shurmer, P. L. E.||Thomas, David (Aberdare)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wigg, George|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Slater, J.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Willey, F. T.|
|Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Snow, J. W.||Thornton, E.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Timmons, J.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Sparks, J. A.||Tomney, F.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Steele, T.||Turner-Samuels, M||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Viant, S. P||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Watkins, T. E.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Weitzman, D.||Younger, RI. Hon K.|
|Sylvester, G. O.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wells, William (Walsall)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Taylor, John (West Lothian)||West, D. G.||Mr. Pearson and Mr. J. Johnson.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Duncan, Capt. J A L.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Amory, Healhcoat (Tiverton)||Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Kaberry, D.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Elliot. Rt. Hon. W. E.||Keeling, Sir Edward|
|Arbuthnot, John||Erroll, F. J.||Kerr, H. W.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Fell, A.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Finlay, Graeme||Lambton, Viscount|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Fisher, Nigel||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Barber, Anthony||Fort, R.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Foster, John||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H|
|Baxter, A. B.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Linstead, H. N.|
|Beamish, Mai. Tufton||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Llewellyn, D. T.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Glyn, Sir Ralph||Low, A. R. W.|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Godber, J. B.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Birch, Nigel||Gough, C. F. H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gower, H. R.||McAdden, S. J.|
|Black, C. W.||Graham, Sir Fergus||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Bossom, A. C.||Grimond, J.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||Harden, J. R. E.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Harvey, Air Cdre A. V. (Macclesfield)||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hay, John||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E|
|Carr, Robert||Heald, Sir Lionel||Markham, Major S. F.|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Heath, Edward||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marples, A. E.|
|Channon, H.||Higgs, J. M. C||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Maude, Angus|
|Cole, Norman||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C|
|Colegate, W. A.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Medlicott, Brig. F|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Mellor, Sir John|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hollis, M. C.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hope, Lord John||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Crookshank, Capt. RI. Hon. H. F. C.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Crouch, R. F||Horobin, I. M.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Hurd, A. R.||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hutchison, Lt. Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Orr, Capt, L. P. S.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Donner, P. W.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Osborne, C.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Jennings, R.||Partridge, E.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Drewe, C.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Perkins, W. R D.|
|Peto, Brig. C. H. M||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Shepherd, William||Turton, R. H.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Pilkington, Capt. R. A||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Pitman, I. J.||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W)|
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Snadden, W. McN.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Profumo, J. D.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Walker-Smith, D. C|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Speir, R. M.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Remnant, Hon. P.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Renton. D. L. M||Stevens, G. P.||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Robertson, Sir David||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wellwood, W.|
|Robinson, Roland (Blackpool. S.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles [...]|
|Robson-Brown, W.||Storey, S.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Stuart, Rt Hon. James (Moray)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold||Wills, G.|
|Russell, R S.||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Wood, Hon. R|
|Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Teeling, W.||York, C|
|Sandys, Rt Hon. D||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)||Major Conant and Mr. Redmayne.|
|Scott, R. Donald||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N|
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, after "may," to insert "by order."
I should like also to refer to another Amendment standing in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends—in page 2, line 21, at end, add:(5) The power conferred by this section on the Minister to make orders shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and no such statutory instrument shall be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before Parliament and has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.The object of these Amendments is to remove from the automatic and uncontrolled discretion of the Minister the power to name the appointed day for the carrying out of this Measure. We feel that it would be better were the House to be left in possession of the power to control the fixing of the appointed day by affirmative Resolution. We are convinced that the Government, in pursuing this particular legislation at this time, are trying rather hastily to correct their own dilatory activities of the past year.
We were told before the General Election that one of the major and most important economic acts that would have to be undertaken by an incoming Conservative Government would be to restore the steel industry to private enterprise. We have passed the first year, at the end of which our major contribution to legislation was an Act to hand over to private enterprise and ownership in new towns the public houses not yet built, but still on the draughtsman's board.
1072 The Minister now comes forward with proposals for the handing over of the iron and steel industry, and he has indicated today the degree of near-panic with which he faces the forthcoming Conservative Conference. He did so when he indicated that he proposes to name the appointed day a matter of some weeks, not months, after the date on which this Bill receives the Royal Assent. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman chose his words very carefully, and, after calculation, I make that period to be seven weeks practically on the dot—or, at least, six or seven weeks. The Minister said weeks, not months; and therefore I assume that he meant a matter of seven weeks, which is going to be very speedy action.
There are very many reasons why we believe that this industry, which is doing well and making a great contribution, which is increasing production and increasing its productivity, as well as increasing its profits, should be allowed to continue under the régime which has proved so beneficial, not only to the industry itself, but to the workers and the consumers—the régime of public ownership—over the last few months.
The effective application of politics is a matter of two things. It is first a matter of decision in principle, and it is also a matter of the time when that decision is applied. A decision on the matter may be all right at one particular moment and wrong in a slightly different set of circumstances a little while after-wards, and therefore, although we hold out no great hopes that we are going to persuade the Government to drop a 1073 decision which we feel is wrong in principle—to hand over the steel industry to private ownership—we want to retain within the control of this House the power to govern the timing of that decision, because a timing which is wrong can make even more stupid and vicious an action which is stupid and vicious in the first place, while timing which is perhaps not quite so bad may remove some of the bad effects of a bad and stupid action.
Why timing is important I shall try to summarise under two heads. First, the timing of the appointed day will be extremely important in relation to the general economic circumstances of the country at the time. We may be facing in a few months' time a period when the tailing off of re-armament orders in the United States, with the tailing off of re-armament orders in this country, may completely reverse the situation in regard to the profitability of the steel industry in this country.
I agree straight away with one remark made by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown). I believe we are shortly going into a period when there will be an abundance of steel, but I do not adduce the same reasons for that as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). In support of that prognostication, I believe that we shall have an abundance of steel because the tempo of our economy will be slowed down progressively under this Administration. I believe that there will be more steel than industry can use, not because more steel is being produced in an expanding output, but because of a general decline in production and a consequential decline in demand.
I think the evidence is pretty clear. Within a few months the steel industry will certainly begin to feel some of the effects of the Government's restriction of credit policy in the consequential slowing down of industrial investment and the consequential inability of many firms which wish to expand to undertake the expansion they desire. One effect will be a decline in the demand for some of the products of the steel industry. We must add to that not only the possible reduction in armament orders, but the forthcoming effects of the Government's social policy—a policy of increasing food prices and of reducing the demand for consumer goods—a policy which itself is bound to 1074 have repercussions on the further level of industrial productivity and investment.
The steel industry is the barometer of all industry. Today, production in this country is down, and the level of investment is down. Tomorrow, the sale prices of the steel industry will be down as well. Once the date is named at which the Agency takes over the ownership of these assets, it has only one function, which is to sell them as quickly as possible, and most likely under the prompting of the Minister of Supply.
Many of these things may not materialise. It may be that, when the appointed day comes, the industry will still be in a thriving state, and may still have a demand for all its products at prices which have obtained, and that it should not be sold, in which case there is no harm in submitting the argument that the appointed day should be decided by affirmative Resolution. If, on the other hand, there has been this decline in the general prosperity of the industry, and a consequential decline, possibly a catastrophic decline, in the prices which consumers are prepared to pay for the products of the steel industry, this House surely has the right to say, "We do not think that it is wise at this time to put this industry on a market which is bad; we prefer to hold it." The only way in which that can be done is by postponing the appointed day, which is the reason we are asking the Committee to retain this power.
We oppose this sale, but if the sale is to take place, then we insist that it should take place in the best possible conditions from the point of view of the community as a whole. We must emphasise—and this must be brought home to the people generally—that it is the property of the people of Britain which is being sold. These blast furnaces, rolling mills and all the complications of the steel industry now belong to the British people, and this industry is being sold out of a co-operative and corporate community into the hands of certain individuals.
It is the responsibility of the House of Commons, in the supervision of these things, to see that we get the best possible bargain for the people we represent. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were selling their own property, they would choose very carefully the time at which they placed it on the market. They 1075 would bear very carefully in mind the conditions at the time, and that is what we have the right to do as a House of Commons. By refusing to grant the Minister power to select a particular appointed day, we can say, in effect, "We believe the timing is wrong; we believe that the policy is wrong, but that your timing is making it even worse, and therefore we refuse to grant that power."
I wish to turn for a moment to the composition of the Board and the effect of the date of the appointed day upon the Board. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will nominate to this Board men of independent view, probity, judgment and character who are able to stand on their own feet and argue on behalf of the trust placed in them. If he gets individuals of that kind on the Board, one of the first things they are going—
§ Mr. Fienburgh
I am sorry. The point I am trying to make now is that I fear that the appointed day, coming so quickly and being outside the purview of the House, may reduce the power of the people appointed to that Board to make representations on the ground that they have not sufficient powers to carry out the task entrusted to them. It is a point which I suggest the House would want to have in mind in deciding the appointed day.
If, as I fear, the gentlemen appointed to the Board find themselves faced with unlimited responsibilities and practically no authority, with unlimited duties and practically no powers, then it would be proper for the House to have, and right that the House should have, the power to say to the Minister, "We are not confident that the powers given to the Board as constituted really give them the chance adequately to carry out the task which they are being asked to undertake."
Therefore, it would be proper for us to argue that, if they are to be given this tremendous construction job to do, at least the appointed day should be deferred until such time as they have available the tools with which to do it. I find, Sir Charles, that in explaining to you why I wanted to make the point, I 1076 have made the point, which was quite unintentional on my part.
I now suggest that once they assume authority, they will find themselves with no power of inspection of the property and plant, because one of the Minister's Amendments has effectively curtailed their power. They would have no power to enforce re-organisation and development, no power to inspect the books of the Iron and Steel Federation, which I suggest is a very important power, and no power to prevent works from closing down. They may choose to say, "The Government have set us an utterly impossible task." Therefore, the House should have the right in those circumstances to say, "This appointed day is wrong." But unless the Committee agrees to this Amendment, I fear that the House will be unable to exercise that power at any time.
A further point which I adduce in support of the argument is that during the past few months since the publication of the White Paper, we have already seen a gradual crystallisation of opinion in opposition to certain Clauses of the Bill on the part of several trade associations, particularly those which are now to be brought into the ambit of general supervision whereas previously they were completely unsupervised. One important thing is that though the Minister may congratulate himself on having received some qualified agreement from some of the trade associations, we are now finding that the constituents of those trade associations, the individual small firms, are claiming that they have been inadequately consulted, and that the representations supposedly made on their behalf do not adequately represent their point of view.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are always so keen to ensure the right of the small producer to be heard, would feel that the House should retain within its control the power of decision over the appointed day so that they can be quite sure in their own minds that the proper process of formulation of opinion has been undertaken throughout the whole of the trade associations and industries concerned.
My last point is one which has already been touched upon. It may be that as the year runs to its close, we may face the possibility of a General Election. 1077 Once again, unless the House retains power of control over the appointed day, it would be quite possible for the Minister arbitrarily to fix an appointed day irrespective of the forthcoming General Election which we, and particularly the general mass of the people of this country, hope will be very soon indeed. I think it is almost certain, in those circumstances, that the Minister might feel that the sands of time were running rather low—
§ Mr. Fienburgh
—and might therefore be rather precipitous in nominating the day.
But the final point—and this is the main point of the whole of our case and cannot be over-emphasised—is that it is the property of the taxpayers of Britain which it is now proposed to sell, and we demand that the House shall have the right to exercise a decision on the timing of that sale so that, even though we may think the Government are wrong in selling the property, we may retain the power to see that what this stupid Measure provides for is undertaken at the best possible time in order to mitigate some of the irresponsibility contained in it.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I shall be very brief, because I can see that the Minister is anxious to intervene, and I am sure that as a good House of Commons man he is going to accept this Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) has made a very good case in substance for the Government giving way to the Opposition on these Amendments. I think there is a good case in substance for saying that the element of timing is important and that due regard should be paid to it, but I want to make one or two other points.
The step which the Minister will be taking under this Bill will be a very important constitutional step. It will be executing, without a very full discussion, a public Corporation so that it ceases to exist, a public Corporation which this House created. I think that is something which the House is entitled to have an opportunity to discuss, and I should have thought any Member of this House would concede that. We are not asking for 1078 tedious discussion on numerous occasions, but only that this matter shall be properly discussed by the House.
The Amendment is also asking that this great public Corporation, whether we agree with it or not, and whether we agree with its creation or not, shall, in being liquidated, know that it is being treated with due and proper respect, and that this House shall have an opportunity to express its point of view upon the manner in which it has carried out the responsibilities put upon it.
All these matters would be proper matters to discuss on an occasion such as this if the House had the opportunity of so doing. If the Minister resists these Amendments, it will be because he wants to avoid giving the House that opportunity. I think that would be merely discourteous to the public Corporation and unfair to the House. Again, as my hon. Friend has said, this Amendment would allow the Minister time to think again. There would be a due interval, and before the Corporation was liquidated the Minister would have an opportunity of considering the various points of view.
I do not want to say very much on the question whether this should be the subject of negative or affirmative procedure. I do not want to express a very strong point of view because I have the honour to be a member of the Select Committee which is at present considering these matters. I would only remind the right hon. Gentleman that if he looks at the precedents of what was said by his right hon. and hon. colleagues when they were on this side of the Committee, he will find that they were invariably in favour of the affirmative procedure. This is not, however, a material point in this context, and from the point of view of the practical convenience of the House of Commons I think that it would make very little difference.
But here, obviously, the procedure should be an affirmative procedure, and therefore I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be true to the reputation which he has generally of being a good House of Commons man and will say that, in spite of advice from his officials, which is invariably the same, this is an occasion on which the House should have the proper opportunity to express itself. I hope, therefore, that he will tell the 1079 Committee shortly that he has resisted his Departmental officials, that he has stood up to them and has said, "All Ministers have this advice, but on this occasion I am going to accede to what would be the general wish of hon. Members if they expressed themselves as Members."
§ Mr. Sandys
Before I reply, I wonder whether I might ask you, Sir Charles, for the purposes of clarification, whether you are accepting both of these Amendments or only the first Amendment?
§ The Chairman
I have called the first which has been moved. I think that it would be the wish of the Committee to discuss the Amendment which has been moved, with the Amendment to add a subsection (5) at the end of line 21; but I was not proposing to call that Amendment, because it is really out of place and ought to be on Clause 29.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am in rather a difficulty, because I do not want to discuss the matter twice over. If I am to understand that hon. Members opposite intend to put down that Amendment on Clause 29, I will reserve myself to deal with it then. Clause 29 deals with various negative and affirmative Resolutions required to deal with the different Orders under the Bill, and therefore it seems that the discussion on Clause 29 is the right place to deal with this specific point. If I understand that hon. Members opposite intend to put that Amendment down again, for they evidently attach importance to it, I think that it would be more satisfactory if I replied when we come to that point. I therefore propose to deal with the Amendment to page 2, line 10.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), who moved this Amendment, said much about it. He dealt with the broader issues in the other Amendment. But, as drafted, the Bill requires only a simple direction, that is to say, a notification by the Minister. This applies in particular to the point of the possible extension of the life of the Corporation 1080 beyond a period of one month. As the Bill stands, the Corporation has one month in which to complete its accounts before it is wound up.
We do not wish there to be any indecent haste in winding up the affairs of the Corporation. The men involved have been discharging their duties with great loyalty and with great perseverance during this period, in accordance with the 1949 Act. That there should be any discourtesy towards them would be the last thing in the world that we would wish. I can assure the Committee that, should the Corporation say to me that they need a little longer to complete their accounts—which is their only function after the appointed day—I shall not refuse them the simple courtesy of giving them adequate time to complete their work.
As the Bill is now drafted, the extension of the life of the Corporation for this purpose requires only a simple direction by the Minister. If this Amendment is adopted—and I am not referring to what would happen if the other Amendment were adopted—it will require a Statutory Order which could be annulled by Prayer in either House of Parliament. I hardly imagine that hon. Members opposite will wish to pray against the prolongation of the life of the Corporation, which after all is their own child, for a few weeks to enable them to wind up their accounts.
But if hon. Members opposite want the Government to embody their assurance in legislation to make quite sure that a Conservative Government will not unduly prolong the life of a nationalised Corporation, I am quite prepared to meet the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) who asks me to be a good House of Commons man. Speaking for my hon. Friends and myself we have been anxious, and shall be throughout, that this Bill shall be as far as possible an agreed Measure. In those circumstances we readily accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
We do not propose to discuss this Clause, because it really 1081 would be a repetition of the discussion which we had on Second Reading of the Bill. It must be assumed that we disagree with the contents of the Clause wholeheartedly, and we are looking forward to the day when we can repeal the Clause and the rest of the Bill. In order
§ to indicate our opposition, we must content ourselves at the moment with voting against the Clause.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes. 253: Noes, 232.1085
|Division No. 64.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Fort, R.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Foster, John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||McAdden, S. J.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. F. (Blackburn, W.)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Baldwin, A. E.||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Barber, Anthony||Glyn, Sir Ralph||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Godber, J. B.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Gough, C. F. H.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Gower, H. R.||Manningham-Buller, Sir. R. E.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Markham, Major S. F.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Grimond, J.||Marples, A. E.|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maude, Angus|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Harden, J. R. E.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Medlicott, Brig. F|
|Birch, Nigel||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Mellor, Sir John|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Black, C. W.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Boothby, R. J. G||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Bowen, E. R.||Hay, John||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Heald, Sir Lionel||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Braine, B. R.||Heath, Edward||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Higgs, J. M. C.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E||Hirst, Geoffrey||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Holland-Martin, C. J||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hollis, M C.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hope, Lord John||Osborne, C.|
|Carr, Robert||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Partridge, E.|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Horobin, I. M.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Channon, H||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Cole, Norman||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Hurd, A. R.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Conant, Maj. F. J. E.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Rayner, Brig. R|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Remnant, Hon. P|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jennings, R.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Kaberry, D.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Keeling, Sir Edward||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Kerr, H. W.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Russell, R. S.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Lambton, Viscount||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Donner, P. W.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Langford-Halt, J. A.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Drayson, G. B.||Leather, E. H. C.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Legh, P. F. (Pelersfieid)||Shepherd, William|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Linstead, H. N.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Fell, A.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Longden, Gilbert||Speir, R. M.|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Low, A. R. W.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Turner, H. F. L.||Wellwood, W.|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Turton, R. H.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Storey, S.||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Strauss, Henry (Norwich. S.)||Vane, W. M. F.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Vosper, D. F.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Sutcliffe, Sir Harold||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Wills, G.|
|Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (W. Marylebone)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Teeling, W.||Walker-Smith, D. C.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||York, C.|
|Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)||Watkinson, H. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Drewe and Mr. Redmayne.|
|Adams, Richard||Gibson, C. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Glanville, James||Mort, D. L.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gooch, E. G.||Moyle, A.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mulley, F. W.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Murray, J. D.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Nally, W.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Baird, J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Balfour, A.||Hale, Leslie||Oswald, T.|
|Bartley, P.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Padley, W. E.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Bence, C. R.||Hamilton, W. W.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Hannan, W.||Pannell, Charles|
|Beswick, F.||Hardy, E. A.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hargreaves, A.||Paton, J.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E)||Pearson, A.|
|Blackburn, F.||Hastings, S.||Pearl, T. F.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hayman, F. H.||Popplewell, E.|
|Boardman, H.||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Porter, G.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G||Herbison, Miss M.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hobson, C. R.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Houghton, Douglas||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Rankin, John|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Reeves, J.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Richards, R.|
|Carmichael, J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Champion, A. J.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Janner, B.||Ross, William|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E|
|Clunie, J.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Short, E. W.|
|Coldrick, W.||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Collick, P. H.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Simmons, C. J.(Brierley Hill)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Slater, J.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Keenan, W.||Snow, J. W.|
|Daines, P.||Kenyon, C.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||King, Dr. H. M.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Kinley, J.||Steele, T.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Deer, G.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lindgren, G. S.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Dodds, N. N.||MacColl, J. E.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||McInnes, J.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McLeavy, F.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Thomas, David (Aberdare)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thomson, George (Dundee. E.)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Fienburgh, W.||Manuel, A. C.||Timmons, J.|
|Finch, H. J.||Mellish, R. J.||Tomney, F.|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Messer, F.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Follick, M.||Mikardo, Ian||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Foot, M. M.||Mitchison, G. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Forman, J. C.||Monslow, W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Moody, A. S.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Morley, R.||Weitzman, D.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Wells, William (Walsall)||Willey, F. T.||Winterbottom, Richard(Brightside)|
|West, D. G.||Williams, David (Neath)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Wheeldon, W. E.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W||Williams Ronald (Wigan)||Yates, V. F.|
|Wigg, George||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K|
|Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Wilkins, W. A.||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Bowden and Mr. J. Johnson.|
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.