HC Deb 03 November 1958 vol 594 cc595-6
37. Mr. Palmer

asked the Paymaster-General if he will make a statement on the continuing recession in the iron and steel industry; and what action the Government propose to take.

Sir I. Horobin

The decline in steel production has largely been brought about by the sharp fall in export demand and by the running down of stocks. To secure the reversal of this trend is part of the Government's general economic policy about which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be speaking later today.

Mr. Palmer

Will the recession in the steel industry make any difference to the long-term expansion plans of the industry? Secondly, should not these recessions be the subject of a special report by the Iron and Steel Board? Would that not be a useful function for that body to undertake?

Sir I. Horobin

I will certainly bear in mind the second suggestion that the hon. Member has put to me. As regards his first suggestion, I think he and the House generally will be aware that, while the Government must bear short-term recessions in mind, these should not in themselves be a ground for altering, without close consideration, long-term and carefully-worked-out plans.

Mr. Marquand

In view of the known ability of the steel industry to increase output at present, will the hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend about building the Severn Bridge, building of more factories in development areas and an acceleration of the hospital building programme?

Sir I. Horobin

Those are matters which would best be dealt with in the debate upon which the House will shortly embark.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is it not the case that iron and steel production was increasing when the industry was publicly owned and that, now it is privately owned, it is decreasing? If that be so, will he explain why this state of affairs has occurred, which is unfortunate from the Government point of view?

Sir I. Horobin

I should have thought that even the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison)—in whose constituency there are so many important iron and steel works—would appreciate that it is no use either a nationalised or a privately owned industry producing something which it cannot sell. That applies just as much to the still nationalised coal industry as to the denationalised iron and steel industry.

Mr. Robens

Does the hon. Gentleman's answer mean that Government policy is responsible for the restricted supply of steel and the difficulties in the industry?

Sir I. Horobin

It does not mean that at all. It means, mainly, that the export markets for steel are not nearly as booming as they were. That may or may not be the responsibility of other Governments. I doubt whether it is; but certainly it is not the responsibility of this Government.