HC Deb 13 May 1953 vol 515 cc1259-87
Lords Amendment

In page 6, line 23, after "ore," insert "or manganese ore."

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, after "manganese," to insert "tungsten or molybdenum."

Mr. Speaker

There are many other Amendments on the same subject. Perhaps the one discussion might cover all those Amendments, if the hon. Member agrees.

Mr. Albu

Yes, the other Amendments are consequential, Sir. The Lords Amendment arises out of a discussion which took place during the Committee stage of the Bill in this House. As result of that discussion the Minister brought it forward on Report in this House in the sense of the Amendment which I had moved in Committee. It was to give powers to the Minister on the advice of the Board, after they had made suitable inquiries, to undertake the exploitation of iron ore overseas. We accepted the Minister's offer as far as it went at that time, although we pointed out that there were other materials that, it seemed to us, it would be advisable to cover.

4.0 p.m.

In another place Lord Wilmot moved again to include these other materials, particularly what are known in the iron and steel trade as additive materials, those materials such as manganese, tungsten, molybdenum, and so on. That Amendment was resisted by Lord Man-croft for the Government on the ground that those materials were used largely outside the iron and steel industry, and that the quantities used in the steel industry were small or even negligible.

Lord Mancroft was surprised to learn the figures of the actual consumption of those materials. Of the tungsten imported into this country, the figures showed 50 per cent. was used in the iron and steel industry, and 88 per cent. of the molybdenum and 90 per cent. of the manganese. The figures appeared to come as a surprise to the Government at that time, but as a result of hearing them Lord Mancroft, on the Report stage of the Bill in another place, admitted that the case for the inclusion at least of manganese was much stronger than had at first been realised.

The House is well aware of the very great and increasing importance of these additive materials in the manufacture of iron and steel. It would be no exaggeration to say that modern engineering would be quite impossible without them. Certainly, the manufacture of such modern engineering products as aircraft, particularly aircraft engines, and motor cars, and other products in which iron and steel are particularly highly stressed, would be impossible without the use of those materials.

It is not only in the production of those things that these materials are becoming of increasing importance. They are of increasing importance not only in machines, but they are becoming of importance also in constructional engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. Incidentally, new materials of this sort are always being discovered. Quite minute quantities of these materials appear to have effects on the physical properties of steel. Small quantities of these materials, when added to steel, make very great increases in the physical strength and properties of steel, and, as a consequence, lead not only to radical changes in design but very considerable reductions in the dimensions, and, consequently, in the weight, of the steel used. The effect of this is very great savings in the use of the basic materials of which steel is made.

In these days when we are all talking about the necessity to increase the production of the metal-using industries, when we are pressing to raise not only steel production but, what may become even more difficult in the future, the production of coal for producing the coke for steel making, anything which assists in reducing the overall consumption of steel per unit of machine production or constructional engineering production is of very great importance. The rate of progress in this as in many other fields is cumulative. We have every reason to believe that the use of these additive materials will increase very greatly indeed.

The Paley Report on raw materials, to the President of the United States, estimated that within the next 25 years the consumption of manganese would go up by 60 per cent., of molybdenum by 170 per cent. and of tungsten by 150 per cent. That is in what is described in the Report as the free world. Those figures, particularly those of molybdenum and tungsten, are very substantial indeed. It may be that adequate supplies will not be forthcoming.

Of course, we hope that the sources of supply will not be restricted to what is at present described as the free world. If we were so restricted we might be in serious difficulties indeed, because something between a quarter and a half of the tungsten in the world has so far been produced in China. We certainly hope that we shall be able to obtain that material from that source. Unfortunately, the Iron Curtain is not the only barrier to the obtaining of raw materials At least, it is not to anybody prepared to face realistically the possibilities and probabilities of the next 25 years to 50 years. The dollar curtain looks like being quite as serious.

At present, nine-tenths of the molybdenum produced in the world comes from the United States, although I understand that supplies are being or are about to be produced in Norway, French North Africa and in Chile. One cannot merely rely on the existence of sources of supply or on production in other parts of the world for our own use. We have to ask ourselves whether that supply is within our potential capacity to purchase. That is quite as important as the mere existence of the supply, and it may be that we shall have to take much more energetic steps to prospect for some of these materials in areas where we shall be able to make the necessary purchases; in other words, in areas that have, or will have at that time, what for us are soft currencies.

These are important considerations for any Government of this country today, and I hope that even at this late hour the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider what, after all, would not be a very great further concession from our point of view, and the point of view which was very strongly supported in general in all parts of the Committee during the Committee stage of the Bill here. I myself was surprised at the warmth of the reception that my Amendment received, first of all from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) and, after that, from other hon. Gentlemen on both sides. Since that stage of the Bill our anxieties about raw materials supplies, and particularly about supplies from dollar sources, have grown. Certainly, they have not lessened. I cannot see why the Government should not arm themselves with every possible weapon that may be necessary to fight what may be a very serious battle for raw materials in the future.

The last argument used by the Government on the two or three occasions when we pressed for the inclusion of these materials within the powers taken by the Minister was that the responsibility for them was that of the Minister of Materials and not that of the Minister of Supply. On this side of the House we take it that means—and we are very glad that it does mean—that the Minister of Materials will continue in his office in spite of the attacks made on him by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and some of his hon. Friends. An hon. Friend reminds me that it is the office which I wish to maintain and not the present occupant of that office.

I think that this is very important, and I hope that it is true, because it would be a most serious thing if the Government were to give up their responsibility for ensuring an adequate supply of raw materials to this country. It is nonsense to think that under present conditions this can be left to private enterprise or ordinary free trade. I do not think that any hon. Member opposite really believes that. We are only asking for these powers to be taken so that they may be used in case of emergency or in default. If private industry and private enterprise will do the work and will do the prospecting and make the plans—well and good.

But in these matters a fairly long term is needed—a longer term, I think, than any private industry or private firm could possibly take. For myself I do not mind whether the powers are taken by the Minister of Supply or by the Minister of Materials. It seems to me that this is a matter for the Government and I suppose that there is some liaison between them; it would be extraordinary if there was not.

Figures have shown that the Minister of Supply, who is responsible for the iron and steel industry, has the greatest interest in these materials. Whether that will continue I do not know, but I suspect that it will. I ask the Minister who has had some kind words said to him this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and who has been retreating on this Bill very carefully step by step— one step on the Report stage here and another step on the Report stage in another place—to remember that Lord Mancroft, speaking for the Government, referred to these other materials. I gather from what he said that manganese was to be considered the minimum for which a case had been made out, but it did not appear to me on reading his speech that the Government had finally made up their minds that they should not go rather wider.

I suggest that the Minister should now go the whole hog. Let him retreat finally and gracefully and accept the Amendment and the intentions of the Amendment which—and I do not want to put him off—was moved in Committee in this House and which I think the Government have come to see, over the course of the past few weeks, are really of extreme importance.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mclley (Sheffield, Park)

I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) has given a very clear and detailed picture of the strong economic and technical reasons why these particular ores are of such fundamental importance to the steel industry. I do not suppose that that will be disputed by whoever replies for the Government.

I must confess that it is a matter of some disappointment that since the two specific ores which we have mentioned are the responsibility of the Minister of Materials, we have not the Minister of Materials with us to participate in this late stage of our debates, but I have no doubt that he will have been already consulted on the point, and I hope that the Government spokesman will not rely on this division of functions between two Ministers as a reason for rejecting the Amendment.

While these ores are of great importance to the industry as a whole, they have particular importance in the part of the world which I have the honour to represent. In the Sheffield district they have particular reference to special steel. The importance of special steel is best seen by the figures. The Sheffield district, including Rotherham, so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), produces only one-sixteenth of the total volume of steel production but 50 per cent. of the value. It would be a great calamity if, through lack of this provision, there was a hold-up in the special steel production of the Sheffield district.

We have become accustomed to the Government being a little more reasonable in another place than is sometimes the case here, and I read with very great care the debate on this matter which took place there. It seems to me that the difference between manganese, which was conceded, and molybdenum, which was not, was a difference of only 2 per cent. To say that 90 per cent. of an ore used in the steel industry shall qualify it for inclusion in the Bill and that 88 per cent. of another ore shall not, seems to me a small difference, and I ask that attention should be paid to that point. I will read the remarks which Lord Mancroft made in replying for the Government during the Committee stage of the Bill. He said: Yes; but, as the noble Lord knows, nearly all of that comes from America. He was referring to molybdenum, and he seemed to suggest that that was a reason for not putting it in the Bill. He said that he realised the implication of that remark.

I can see that there may be some difficulties in so far as the major part of the supply comes from the United States, but I think that is an additional reason for having it in the Bill rather than leaving it out because, as my hon. Friend said, in this particular situation we should be making special efforts to find alternative sources of supply. I think that in the case of molybdenum there is as strong a case if not a stronger one than in the case of manganese for its insertion in the Bill.

In the case of tungsten, it may be argued that there is a less strong case. We did not get in the House of Lords the exact figure of the amount of tungsten which is used in the iron and steel industry. I think that it would not be unreasonable to suggest that we should include in the Bill specifically these raw materials of which over 50 per cent. are consumed by the iron and steel industry. That would, as we suggest in the Amendment, bring in tungsten and molybdenum and leave out cobalt and chrome where the use is about 20 to 30 per cent.

If the Minister will look at Clause 3 (1, b) of the Bill he will see that the Board are responsible for keeping under review the arrangements for procuring and distributing raw materials and fuel for use in the iron and steel industry; Yet in Clause 5 (1, b) it is stated that the Board shall have power to consult such other persons and such representative organisations as the Board consider appropriate, with a view to securing the provision … of such production facilities. It seems unreasonable that they should have the responsibility for having the review of procurement and distribution without having the power to consult the bodies and persons concerned with a view to getting increased production facilities should they be required.

I think this is a very reasonable Amendment, and I ask the Minister to accept it. In doing so, I would suggest to him that we were very much fortified by the support which we had in another place from the Liberal Party. In the total absence of the Liberal Party today, we are not so well-equipped. I can only hope that they are busy in Sunderland doing what I hope is a very valuable job. I regret that the task in Sunderland is so far advanced that acceptance of the Amendment would not permit the wooing by the Conservative Party of the Liberal electorate there.

However, it is important that Lord Layton, in another place, went so far as to suggest that if a Division was called on the point he would go into the Lobby against the Government on the issue of having all raw materials inserted in the Clause. In view of the facts and figures which have been given by my hon. Friend and the support we had in another place from the Liberal Party, we ought to have from the Government a very sympathetic reply and, I hope, acceptance of the Amendments.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. A. R. W. Low)

I hope that I shall satisfy the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) that I am giving them a sympathetic reply even if I finish, as I hope to do, by persuading the House not to accept their Amendments.

From the very lucid way in which the hon. Member for Edmonton moved the Amendment, it is clear what the effect of it and the consequential Amendments would be. In brief, it would be to extend the power granted to the Minister of Supply in Clause 5 of the Bill, in connection with the development of overseas resources, to include not only manganese ore as well as iron ore, but tungsten and molybdenum also. There is no dispute between us about the importance of tungsten and molybdenum, to our engineering industry in particular, and indeed to other industries as well. That has never been in dispute when we have discussed the matter.

Nevertheless, in our view it would be a mistake to include tungsten and molybdenum within the responsibility of the Minister of Supply under the Bill. I say that it would be a mistake; it would, in our opinion, be both unnecessary and inappropriate to do so. I will tell the House why it would be unnecessary. The House will remember the Ministry of Materials Act, 1951—certainly the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) will remember it—and the Transfer of Functions (Various Materials) Order, 1951, as a result of which the Minister of Materials has the necessary powers to invest in overseas development of wolfram, the ore from which tungsten is obtained, and molybdenum, and to do all the other things envisaged in Clause 5 of the Bill. We have had a close check made on that point, and I can assure the hon. Member for Edmonton that that is the correct position.

In stating that, I hope, in view of one thing which he suggested, that he will be satisfied. I have a note that he said, "I do not mind whether the Minister of Materials or the Minister of Supply has these powers." He indicated that what he wanted to make certain of was that the Government as a whole had a reserve power—I think he treated this matter as a reserve power—which related to the overseas development, if necessary, of these important metals.

Mr. Albu

Provided the Minister gives a guarantee that the Ministry of Materials will continue to exist.

Mr. Low

I am talking now about the powers which the Government have. The Minister of Materials has those powers by Act of Parliament at the moment. It was a decision not of this Government but of the last Government that he should have those powers, and that the Minister of Supply should not have them. That is why the proposal of hon. Gentlemen opposite is unnecessary. I am sure the House will agree that, in those circumstances, it would be inappropriate. To include another power under this Bill would result in undesirable duplication of functions between the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Materials. That is the case in respect of tungsten and molybdenum.

I now come to the manganese side of the problem. All my remarks so far have referred to tungsten and molybdenum. On the other hand, in our opinion, manganese ought to be treated in the same way as iron ore. Curiously enough we can here pray in aid the right hon. Gentleman and the previous Government, because they treated manganese ore in the same way as iron ore when they allocated functions between the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Materials. No doubt for good reasons, that was how they decided it.

There are two very clear distinctions between manganese on the one hand and tungsten or molybdenum on the other. Manganese is essential to all steel making; it is not just an alloying metal. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) made that point very clearly in the course of our discussions. The second distinction is one which I must emphasise again. Manganese ore is expressly excluded from the permanent powers of the Minister of Materials. The curious position which we have found on looking into the matter is that, apart from this Bill, the Minister of Supply has no permanent powers covering the development of manganese ore or, indeed, iron ore overseas. Therefore, in our opinion, the inclusion of manganese ore is both necessary and appropriate. In- deed, it fills a gap which clearly needs filling, whereas, on the other hand, as I hope I have persuaded the House, the inclusion of tungsten and molybdenum is unnecessary and inappropriate.

For those reasons, I hope that the House will agree with the Government, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite will withdraw their Amendment and will agree with the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I am sorry to have to advise the Parliamentary Secretary that the explanation which he has put forward is not acceptable to this side of the House. Had the Government given the same attention to the need in respect of wolfram ore and molybdenum as they have to manganese since we brought it to their attention, they would no doubt have acceded to our request. It is plain now that the Government made a mistake in not including manganese ore in the first instance. We asked that manganese should be included. We said it was essential that this power should exist because manganese is used in all forms of steel making. The Parliamentary Secretary has already referred to my earlier statement.

Be that as it may, we note that another place has prevailed upon the Government to include manganese. It ought to have been inserted in the Bill in its original form, because without manganese there could be no steel, and without steel there could not be any Bill, and without the Bill there would not have been this controversy. The logic of the situation is that this ought to have been observed, noted and inserted. We now find that their Lordships, who apparently know more about the making of steel than do the Members of Her Majesty's Government, saw the necessity.

I want, as a practical steelmaker, to make the point as clear as I can. The steel industry, in my opinion—my opinion is only a very humble one, that of a simple individual who has worked in the industry all his life—is akin to the cotton industry. The steel industry will survive in the future by selling, producing and exporting high-conversion, high-quality steels. Anybody in the world who has iron ore deposits and has access to manganese deposits and coal will be able to make the cheaper forms of steel and use them for his own benefit. Those of us in the industry know the difference between the low-quality "muck," as it is termed in the industry, and the very high-quality conversion value steels such as we have been called upon to make. If we are to survive we shall be in world competition with those who can make steel just as well as we can, such as Germany, Japan, America, Russia, Luxembourg and France. I am told that even Egypt is contemplating setting up a steel works to develop the varieties of deposits found in the desert.

4.30 p.m.

It is vitally necessary that, having regard to the future of the industry, we make certain that the Government will have access to a fair supply of these scarce materials. They are relatively scarce in the sense that they are the perquisites of different nations. We are not, in this Amendment, asking too much. We are not demanding that the Minister shall do this and that he shall be enforced by this Bill so to do. We are asking that if these wise men, whose names we shall shortly be told, having considered the situation, believe that, having regard to national and international considerations, it will be necessary for the Minister to do as we suggest, then it shall be done. If they find that everything in the steel industry is as it should be, that there is an ample supply and that the future is safeguarded, there will be no need for the provision made by this Amendment to be used: it is to safeguard the situation.

As has already been said, the supplies of these materials were allocated by Providence in a rather peculiar way. Molybdenum comes in the main, from America. America may, perhaps long after I am dead, determine that we should not have their raw materials. They may find themselves up against world competition, and to maintain their position they may decide to make it hard for their competitors to exist by withdrawing supplies of that very vital raw material. We never know.

Russia is one of the chief holders and suppliers of manganese ore in the world. If my information is correct—and I claim it to be as correct as that of most people, having used more of this molybdenum than anyone in this House, and I mean in the shovel, not on paper—Russia and India are the main suppliers of manganese. Either may turn funny: either may be friendly with this country or against the interests of this country. Having regard to these peculiar factors, it is very important that we should safeguard the interests of the nation.

The supply of raw materials is not a political matter. It is a matter of the nation's survival. It does not matter who is in the Government and who is the Opposition if we do not get sufficient steel and coal. All that politicians do is to suggest that people should do certain things. We suggest and hope that people will get on with the job. That is a statement which cannot be refuted. We have never seen Members coming into this Chamber covered in dust from the coal mines or sweat from the steel mills, and we never shall. We suggest that the Government can easily accept this Amendment.

There is no political animus or venom or unreasonableness about it. It is a matter of making certain that, in the national interest we shall have supplies of these materials safeguarded. All we are asking is that, as the future of the industry is part of the national interest, the industry should be safeguarded particularly having regard to the development of the industry. I could talk for a long time about the new steels which are coming into operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) made a very fine case for this Amendment. He gave many good technical reasons why it should be accepted. No harm can be done by its insertion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) had something to say about the conduct of this Bill as compared with the misconduct of another, and I hope that our discussion of this Bill will continue in the same strain as previously. This Bill should, so far as possible and practicable, be made to work, for however long it remains in being. We do not like the Bill. We shall repeal it at the first opportunity. That must be perfectly understood by the Government. When that day arrives, be it near or far, we shall want to take over the industry on behalf of the country, and, so far as Amendments at this stage have any bearing on it, we want it to be as perfect as possible.

I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision. No harm can be done by inserting this Amendment, but a lot of harm can be done if we find that, it having been left out, the national interest suffers.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

There is really little between both sides of the House. We have been met on manganese, and, if I understood the Parliamentary Secretary aright, we would be met on this point, too, but for a question of the powers of the Minister of Materials. The answer that we were given, if I followed it correctly—and I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong—was this, "We fully agree that there ought to be powers, at any rate in certain circumstances, for the Government to invest in and develop tungsten and molybdenum abroad, but the Minister of Materials already has those powers and, therefore, there is no need to put them in."

That being so, I want to remind the Parliamentary Secretary of something that at first sight may seem a little remote. We know that the Minister reads "Alice in Wonderland" and, indeed, keeps a copy in the Ministry Library. There is another book called "The Misfortunes of Elphin," which I commend to the Parliamentary Secretary. In that book there was a king who lived in a kingdom surrounded by a pallisade which kept out the waters. He was somewhat careless about this pallisade. I think it was perhaps—and this will appeal to hon. Members opposite—a little over-centralised. Different parts of it were guarded by different warders. The reason was that the sea might break through the pallisade.

Let me anticipate the end of the story. That is just what happened finally, but the king was reassured—and no doubt Peacock, the author, had the British Constitution in mind—by a somewhat sophistical defence of rottenness and elasticity, and, in particular, he was told that the junction points in the pallisade were not really as dangerous as he thought. Of course, it was through those junction points that the sea finally broke in, where the domain of one warder ended and the domain of another warder began. This was Peacock's criticism of the British Constitution. He was, indeed, repeating some of the arguments that were made at the time of the Reform Bill.

This is one of the junction points. They are very illogical and they are a bit inelastic at the moment, because for some reason or other—no doubt, in other connections there are reasons—we have one Ministry which looks after manganese and another Ministry which looks after molybdenum and tungsten. It is only because of this separation between substances that are equally necessary, not for making all steel but for making certain very important types of steel, that those two other materials cannot be put into this Bill.

I suggest that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary ought to go a little further. No doubt, the Minister of Materials has the power to invest, but it is, after all, the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply to look after the iron and steel supplies of this country, and it is in recognition of that that certain emergency powers are given under this Clause. The use of those emergency powers is to be supported by representations from the Board, and by the forming of an opinion by the Board after consultations with the industry.

It is only when the Board has formed that opinion and is convinced that the industry can do nothing more that these emergency powers come into operation. There are abundant safeguards from the point of view of hon. and right hon. Members opposite against any undue interference with private enterprise. It is only in a national emergency when the Board have come to the conclusion that there is not a sufficient supply of tungsten or molybdenum, that conclusion having been reached after full deliberation and consultation with the industry and all persons concerned, that the question arises whether the Minister should not do something about it.

It seems to me wholly illogical to say that the question of iron and steel supplies is to be considered by the Board and the Ministry of Supply, but that the only person who is to be allowed to take action about this deficiency is another Minister, the Minister of Materials. I am sure if we cannot make our constitutional arrangements fit the facts a little better than that, we ought to have another look at them and amend them to meet realities.

Surely the question whether these powers should be used, the question of consultations as to their use and the question of how they should be used when the moment comes are matters which must vitally concern the Ministry of Supply. I am not asking the Minister to do any poaching. I do not ask him to poach with or without a gun on the ground of the Minister of Materials. By all means let the Minister of Materials keep his power if that is more convenient. I am only saying that the existence of those powers in another Ministry is a wholly inadequate answer to the demand that those powers should be given here, subject to safeguards under the conditions for the purposes laid down by this Clause of the Bill.

It is a wholly inadequate answer, and the absurdity of it comes out best with regard to manganese and molybdenum. Here we have two substances and 90 per cent. of one and 88 per cent. of the other are used in the iron and steel industry. But a distinction is drawn between them. It is an absurdity to suggest that there is no possibility of knowing where the distinction should be drawn. Surely the sensible thing in those circumstances is to say what is the main object of those two materials. In both cases the answer is, to make steel.

If that is so, let the Minister who is responsible, if any Minister will remain responsible when this Bill has been passed for the supply of steel in this country, deal with both of them. Do not wreck the best arrangement possible because hon. Members opposite cannot settle the matter as between two Ministries.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. John Freeman (Watford)

I wish to add very little to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said, because I think he has stated the argument with clarity. But there is one further point which I should like to ask the Minister to take into account before he gives us his final reply. My hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that nothing that is contained in our suggestions here could be said to impinge on the objective of the Government, which is the restoration of this industry to private enterprise. At this stage, we do not propose to argue about the principle for we are concerned only with detail.

This has not to take effect until an emergency has arisen, a fact that was clearly established by my hon. and learned Friend. The Parliamentary Secretary, when he was giving us what I hope will prove to be only an interim answer a few minutes ago, depended entirely for his argument on the division of function between the Ministries. He pointed out that when we in the Labour Government set up the Ministry of Materials we distinguished between manganese and other metals. So be it, but there is a powerful section of opinion in the Tory Party represented, I apprehend, by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has the support of about 100 other black sheep in the party, who want to abolish the Ministry of Materials.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Hear, hear. Scrap it.

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Member is not really substituting for argument animal noises of that kind. Reading the political correspondence, I understand that that is his object and that he has a powerful following in his party. Many of us expect that the Ministry of Materials will not survive very long. The Minister himself has just disappeared. For all I know he may have gone to Downing Street to be told that his Ministry no longer exists. I should be very gratified on personal grounds if he were moved to another place on 1st June, but none of us know about that.

What does seem more than likely is that the Ministry will not continue very much longer, and in the light of that possibility, which the Minister must recognise is in our view a serious possibility, the Parliamentary Secretary's arguments are rather undermined. The great advantage of accepting this Amendment as it stands is that it will not come into operation until there is an emergency for these vital raw materials, which none of us hope will happen.

I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Materials has returned, but is not now seated on the Government Front Bench. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels I could not have hit the nail more squarely on the head than I did on this occasion. As I was saying, none of this can happen until an emergency has arisen. I see that the Minister of Materials is now again on the Government Front Bench. It seems to be a gratifying afternoon for him. [Laughter.] If my hon. Friends will allow me I should like to develop my argument seriously.

The great danger which the Government spokesman has attributed to our Amendment is that while the Minister of Materials and the Minister of Supply are both still with us there might be friction between the two of them, though I think the drafting of the Bill as it already stands at Clause 5 completely eliminates that possibility. Not only have the Board to consult the Minister, and to certify to him that an emergency exists, but the Minister himself must go to the Treasury and can take this action only with their approval. All through our discussions on this Bill we have been arguing about the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am one of those who have criticised the degree of intervention which under this Bill he is likely to have to make in the steel industry. One of the advantages of having him here is that he can hold the ring as between two war Ministers.

If a crisis arises in the field of supply, and if the Minister of Materials is still with us, the Treasury only have to withhold their consent, which they certainly would, to the Minister of Supply taking any action to prevent any possibility of an overlap of function or friction between the two Departments. If, in the meantime, the Minister or his Ministry disappear—dust to dust and ashes to ashes—then the wording of the Bill will stand that, in the event of an emergency, the Minister of Supply will be able to take over, and he is the natural person to do so in the view of many of us.

I hope that although circumstances beyond my control have made some of my argument appear more flippant than it was intended to be, the Minister will realise that, in the light of what I have said, merely to say that some of these powers are at present exercised by the Minister of Materials who—in quite different circumstances because we intended to keep a Minister of Materials— had acquired the duties in that way, is not an adequate answer to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Nabarro

I had no intention of intervening in this debate and I do so now for only a few moments because of the repeated references by hon. Gentlemen opposite to my views upon the future of the Ministry of Materials, which is very much concerned with the matter we are discussing in these Amendments.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) mistook my approbation for his surmise that the Ministry of Materials would be wound up at an early date. I have always taken the view that governments should not interfere in time of peace in the legitimate commercial processes of acquiring raw materials from overseas. That is the principle inherent in the Amendment before us. Another place sought to insert one ferro-alloy, manganese, as an additional responsibility of the Board in certain circumstances. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have sought to add to manganese the ferro-alloys, tungsten and molybdenum. They have quoted various percentages of those ferro-alloys as being employed in the steel industry. I am not sure whether those percentages are correct or not. I repeat that, because there are few authoritative statistics available on that matter.

I find it difficult to comprehend why hon. Gentlemen opposite consider that manganese, tungsten and molybdenum should be referred to specifically in this Bill, whereas such ferro-alloys as vanadium and chrome or wolfram for that matter should not be included and no reference made to them in the Bill, for all those materials are used in greater or less degree, directly or indirectly, in the manufacture of steel of various classes. As the hon. Gentleman will readily confirm, they are used particularly in the manufacture of special and free-cutting steels employed so extensively in the engineering industry.

Mr. Mulley

If the hon. Gentleman had paid the same attention to this part of the Bill as he did to some others, he would have remembered that originally we asked that raw materials in general should be the phrase in the Bill. That was the original form of the Amendment moved in another place. We were persuaded by the argument of the Government spokesman. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that there only a small percentage is used of some of the metals and, therefore, we wanted to press only the outstanding cases of manganese, molybdenum and tungsten. No doubt, when the hon. Gentleman has sorted out the Ministries concerned and got them to put their figures right, if there is time he will get a better decision on this matter.

Mr. Nabarro

The weakness of that case is that the absence of even a tiny quantity of vanadium could destroy the productive capacity of an immensely larger tonnage of steel. Had the hon. Gentleman the same experience of these ferro-alloys as I gathered during the later war years, he would have realised the force of that argument.

I think we are accepting here a dangerous principle in including even manganese within the terms of this Bill. I certainly would object to, and resist strongly, the addition of molybdenum and tungsten as well. I believe that the legitimate instrument for acquiring from overseas all raw materials, including those of the steel industry, lies in the hands of private industry and commerce and should not be unnecessarily interfered with by the State.

Mr. Mitchison

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so that I can ask a question. We all value, of course, the extensive experience he must have had in these matters. With much less experience, I have always thought that tungsten came from wolfram ore, and that to include tungsten and then to jib at wolfram would be a little irrational.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. and learned Gentleman, as a lawyer, ought to be capable of contributing to a good and perfect Act of Parliament. In fact, he is so overwhelmed by his own verbosity that he has failed to discern the technicalities inherent in this argument; but I want to pass to another point.

The reply of my hon. Friend on behalf of Her Majesty's Government sought, as I understood it, to act as a kind of soporific to those of us who have been severely critical of the present Administration in continuing a Ministry of Materials, at all. While there may be a division of responsibility at present between the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Materials in the acquisition of certain raw commodities from abroad, none of that should detract in any way from the fundamental principle for which hon. Members on this side of the House should stand eternally, that no Govern- ment calling itself a Conservative Government should be concerned with the direct acquisition of raw materials. They should hand that legitimate process to private commercial firms to conduct.

The 100 hon. Members who are reputed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Watford to support me in this matter —personally, I think there may be nearer 250 than 100—will press their claims, not for the elimination of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Materials, for he is an unexceptionable character in all circumstances; but we shall most certainly press for the elimination of his wretched Ministry which we regard as a barnacle on the Board of Trade.

Mr. Jack Jones

In view of the assertion of the hon. Gentleman that he, with perhaps 250 supporters, may press for no materials being bought except by private enterprise, can he tell the House when we can expect a Motion to appear on the Order Paper in his name asking for the denationalisation of the coal industry, without which the steel industry could not carry on?

Mr. Nabarro

I should be out of order—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Yes. Mr. Lee.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)


Mr. Nabarro

I only gave way for a moment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so may I be allowed to say that only a Socialist Government succeeded in importing coal into the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lee

As a result of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), the Government are in an even worse dilemma. They have either to relinquish their title of a Conservative Government or else abolish the Ministry of Materials. Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Minister, in view of the fact that this Government have so long kept the Ministry of Materials and kept the powers which the Parliamentary Secretary has told us reside only in the Ministry of Materials, what the intentions of the Government are in this respect. If the Ministry of Materials goes before the Government goes—they would have to do so very quickly to beat the Government—would it be true that no powers would be left to the Government so far as the importation of these ores is concerned?

5.0 p.m.

The fact that they have used these powers and allowed the Ministry of Materials to remain in this key position without seeking in this or any other Bill to confer such powers on the Ministry of Supply seems to imply that they accept the fact that it is essential that some Department of the Government must have these powers. I was about to ask the Solicitor General if he could assist us in this matter. Yesterday the Prime Minister revealed that he did not even know the name of the Solicitor General for Scotland. If the hon. and learned Member who does the job for England had remained it would have given him a chance to let the Prime Minister know his name. We are left with this highly technical point to be answered by the Minister.

In spite of what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, it is quite wrong in this period, when we see the raw material supplies of the world being used at such a colossal pace and when competition may well grow more and more intense by German and Japan expanding their engineering industries, to leave this country—which is probably more dependent on imports than any other engineering country—to cope with the competition which it will undoubtedly encounter from other manufacturing countries. If the Government are to allow themselves to be denuded of these powers at a time when we are trying to expand our production of steels the country will be left in a most serious position.

So far as we on this side of the House are concerned we believe that the Government itself may disappear before the Ministry of Materials disappears. If the Government disappear, the Act itself would disappear shortly after, so this problem would not arise. But so long as we have the assurance of the hon. Member for Kidderminster that at least 250 hon. Members of the party opposite—who should be supporting the Government-are of the opinion that the Ministry of Materials should disappear, we ought to have an assurance from the Minister that, if the Ministry of Materials is the only Department which has these powers, then, before its disappearance, the powers will be transferred to the Ministry of Supply.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I was hoping that we should have a reply from the Minister on the very important point that has been raised, as the answer which has been given by the Government is, in brief, that it would be inappropriate for the Minister of Supply to take these powers because they reside at present with the Minister of Materials. There is some force in that argument and I think that is recognised by my hon. Friends, but, because they are so anxious that there should be some definite and concrete power in the hands of the Minister responsible for the industry which has to have these materials, they press these Amendments. If the Government say the Ministry already have the powers we are entitled to ask this: if the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) succeeds in his campaign, or if, at a later date, the Government, for some other reason, decide that the Ministry of Materials should be abolished and, with it, the appropriate powers which were given it by the last Government, what is to happen? Is no one to have the power to step in if emergency threatens and get hold of molybdenum or tungsten?

Mr. Nabarro

In 1939, and for years before, we had a period of growing emergency when there was no Government intervention at all, but sufficient ferroalloys were put into stock to last for seven years of war without any sort of Government intervention.

Mr. Strauss

The hon. Member must pursue his argument with the Government, because the Government have decided in this Bill that they are to be given powers to go into the world, develop and bring to this country iron ore or manganese if emergency threatens. That is Government policy and it is no use the hon. Member arguing the matter with me; that should be argued with the Minister.

It was our suggestion and we think it is quite right. The case is so overwhelming that someone—we think the Minister of Supply—should also have the power when necessary to get other essential materials. Therefore, I say to the Government that it must be part of their case, in answer to ours, if it is to carry any weight at all, that if the powers which the Minister of Materials now possesses are to disappear those powers will be given either to the Ministry of Supply or to some other Government agency so that we can be sure that the Government will retain the power which the Ministry of Materials have at the moment. If we are given that assurance I think it would go far to satisfy my hon. Friends. We recognise that the Government, by accepting manganese and putting it into the Bill, have gone a long way to meet us, but we regret that they have not gone further. If we cannot have that assurance I think my hon. Friend will not desire to press the matter further.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman), who I see has left his place, and one or two others, including the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), asked me to say something about the position of the Ministry of Materials in relation to these two important materials—tungsten and molybdenum—which are used, not wholly but to a considerable extent, in steel making.

They asked what would be the position if, at some future date, the Ministry of Materials were to come to an end. It would be both outside the scope of this debate and outside my province to speculate as to whether a Government Department is to be wound up at any time, and I should hesitate to make myself the spokesman of such an announcement when the Minister is present himself. [An HON. MEMBER: "He can speak for himself."] I can, however, say that if my right hon. Friend should discharge his functions so efficiently and so completely that he should at any time work himself out of a job, then of course this problem would undoubtedly arise.

All I would say this afternoon is that in the event of the winding up of the Ministry of Materials at any time it does not necessarily follow that its responsibilities will automatically be abandoned. All it would mean would be that the responsibilities which remained to be discharged were insufficient to justify the existence of a separate Ministry. But I am not speculating about that problem. The responsibilities which were to be retained by the Government would of course have to be transferred to another Government Department. I have no doubt that the lucid and weighty arguments which have been advanced in this debate would be carefully considered by the Government of the day in coming to their decision as to how and where any remaining responsibilities should be distributed, and whether in particular any responsibilities in regard to tungsten and molybdenum should be transferred to the Ministry of Supply.

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) criticised the separation of the responsibility for the raw materials used in steel making between two Government Departments. He said that iron ore and manganese were the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply whereas tungsten and molybdenum ores were the responsibility of the Ministry of Materials. I refer to tungsten ore. It is also called wolfram, but I notice that in the White Paper published by the former Government they refer to it as tungsten ore, so I felt I should be in good company in using that expression.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to forget that the Ministry of Supply was responsible for tungsten and molybdenum ore until the former Government decided to transfer that responsibility to the Ministry of Materials.

Mr. Lee

We are not pressing that the Ministry of Supply should have responsibility for these materials. We prefer that the Ministry of Materials should remain in existence, but unless the transfer comes about the responsibility will cease if the Ministry of Materials goes out of existence.

Mr. Sandys

I do not understand the point which the hon. Gentleman is making. He must realise that all the powers which he is asking to be vested in the Minister of Supply—because that would be the effect of this Amendment— are vested in the Minister of Materials. He is not asking that additional powers be given to the Government, but that either the powers should be transferred from the Minister of Materials to the Minister of Supply or that the same powers should be given to two Ministers—

Mr. Lee

No, I am not.

Mr. Sandys

Whether or not it is a good thing to transfer powers from the Minister of Materials to the Minister of Supply I am sure that it is not a good thing to give to two Ministers the same job, which would result were we to give the Minister of Supply these powers without taking them away from the Minister of Materials. But that is just what the hon. Member said he did not want to do.

Mr. Lee

The whole of the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary in refuting this Amendment was that these powers are already vested in the Minister of Materials. Now the Minister is saying that we are trying to vest them in two Ministers.

Mr. Sandys

I am saying that these powers are already possessed by the Government through the Minister of Materials, and that we do not see any advantage in transferring them to the Minister of Supply. Further, we see a grave disadvantage in giving the same powers and responsibility to two Ministers.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask one question? The Minister used the word "job" which I think is the right word. Surely powers cannot be allocated in this connection apart from duties, and the Minister of Materials has no duties as regards the iron and steel industry. He has no duty to consult with the industry and no duty to meet an emergency which might affect steel making. All that is the business of the Minister of Supply.

Mr. Sandys

My right hon. Friend has a general duty to ensure a sufficient supply of raw materials. In any case the machinery of Government must be regarded as a whole. If nothing could be done without all the powers required being vested in one Government Department we should either be in a most awful tangle, or else we should have to reduce the Government machine to a single Department.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering referred to a book called "The Misfortunes of Elphin." It is a book with which I am not familiar, but for greater accuracy I have obtained a copy. He said that in this book there was a story about a king who set up a palisade around his castle to keep out the sea. He entrusted this palisade to a number of guards. The only comment I wish to make is that to give two guards the responsibility for looking after the same section of the palisade would be a sure way to create confusion and to let in the sea.

I have not had time to study this story at length, as it runs into a number of pages, but I did happen to open the book at the chapter entitled, "The Oppression of Gwenhidwy."I hesitate to quote Welsh in the presence of the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) but perhaps I might attempt the first four lines: Nid meddw y dyn a allo Cwnu ei hun a rhodio, Ac yved rhagor"—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We may only speak English in this House.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

May I congratulate the Minister on his choice of reading material and on his pronunciation of the Welsh language?

Mr. Sandys

Since there is a translation, I will read the remaining two lines in English: But drunk is he, who prostrate lies, Without the power to drink or rise. I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will agree that is as relevant to this debate as was the rest of the story quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. After those convincing arguments I hope hon. Members opposite will agree not to press this Amendment to a Division.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Lords Amendment," put, and negatived.

Lords Amendment agreed to.—[Special Entry.]

Further Lords Amendments down to page 7, line 9, agreed to [Several with Special Entry.]

Lords Amendment

In page 7, line 22, at end, to insert: (6) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall empower the Minister himself to own. build, or operate seagoing ships.

Mr. Low

I beg to move, "That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The effect of this Amendment is to preclude the Minister himself from owning, building or operating, sea-going ships for the transportation of iron ore and, following the recent set of Amendments, manganese ore. When the House decided, during the earlier stages of the Bill, to extend the Minister's development powers to include overseas development it was decided also to add a power for the provision of transport facilities. That power, of course, included shipping. But I should make it clear that it was not the Government's intention that the Minister himself should directly own and operate cargo vessels. The possibility that the Minister might ever be asked by the Board to do so is, of course, extremely remote since the Board would first try to secure all the necessary shipping from existing shipping companies.

Further—and this is a consideration which we ask the House to bear in mind —shipping is an international trade and the United Kingdom for many years, in its dealings with other maritime nations, has resisted policies of intervention by Governments in the normal processes of international shipping. That is this country's traditional approach to shipping. It seems to us right, therefore, that the Iron and Steel Bill should contain a specific provision making it clear that the Government itself will not own or operate ships.

I hope I can satisfy the House on the point by dealing with it quite shortly. It is quite unnecessary for the Minister to own or operate ships. He already has power under the Clause to secure that there are sufficient ships.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

May I ask the Minister a question? I think we are all agreed, first, that the Government must have some reserve powers so that if the steel industry is held up because there are not sufficient ships to bring the iron ore to this country, the Government can provide the ships for the industry. The House will remember that a serious situation arose a few years ago because of the lack of shipping space. At that stage steps were taken, at the instance of the Iron and Steel Corporation, to ensure that some ships were built to belong to the Federation, which would always be at the disposal of the Federation to carry iron ore. It is generally agreed that the Government should have power to ensure that ships are available in an emergency.

Secondly, we agree that it is not desirable and rather pointless for the Government to own and run ships themselves for this purpose. The point about which I want to be clear was raised in the House of Lords, but we should also like an assurance in the House of Commons. As the Act stands, have the Government power to charter ships, if necessary? It was stated in the House of Lords that they had such power. Even more important, if the industry is reluctant for one reason or another to buy as many ships as are necessary, can the Government set up a company or make arrangements with another body who will buy ships for the Government and run them for the industry?

There was some indirect reference to the question in the House of Lords. Lord Salisbury is reported in column 1031 of the OFFICIAL REPORT as saying that it would be possible for the Government to give assurances about long-term contracts for ships to be built for the iron and steel industry. I want to be sure that, if necessary, the Government can set up, or make arrangements with, an organisation to own and run ships for the iron and steel industry, if the industry is unwilling to do so for itself or if there is a serious danger that the industry will suffer because there are insufficient ships to bring the ore to this country. If we can be given an assurance that the Government have full power to take this action, I think we shall be satisfied that the Lords Amendment is reasonable.

Mr. Sandys

I think I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the Government have all the powers they need to get the shipping which might be required in those circumstances. There is a variety of ways in which the Government can obtain these powers. Some have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and others have been referred to in another place.

Question put, and agreed to. [Special Entry.]