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Iron And Steel Corporation (Membership)

Volume 478: debated on Thursday 14 September 1950

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I had proposed to ask the Prime Minister the following Question: Whether he can give an assurance that no steps will be taken to bring the steel nationalisation Act into operation while the present crisis lasts or until there has been a fresh appeal to the country? But I now understand that the Government wish themselves to volunteer a statement.

The intention was to refer the right hon. Gentleman to a statement which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply will be making today.


The House will recall that the Iron and Steel Act passed in the last Parliament provides that the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain shall consist of a Chairman and not less than six nor more than ten other members, none of whom shall be appointed by the Minister before 1st October, 1950. The Government intend that the appointments shall be made on Monday, 2nd October, 1950, and the following have informed me that they will be prepared to accept appointment on that date:—

Chairman—Mr. S. J. L. Hardie.
Chairman of the British Oxygen Company, Ltd. Vice-Chairman of Metal Industries Ltd. and director of many other industrial undertakings.
Deputy-Chairman—Sir John Green.
Director of Thos. Firth & John Brown, Ltd. and Chairman of the Central Conference of the Engineering and Allied Employers National Federation.
Full-time Members:
Sir Vaughan Berry, British Delegate to the International Authority for the Ruhr.
General Sir James Steele, Adjutant-General to the Forces.
Mr. W. H. Stokes, an official of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and Chairman. Midland Regional Board for Industry.
Part-time Members:
Mr. J. W. Garton, Chairman of Brown Bayley's Steel Works, Ltd., and Managing Director of the Hoffmann Manufacturing Co. Ltd., and
Mr. R. A. Maclean, Chairman of A. P. Stoddard & Co. Ltd., Director of Scottish Industrial Estates and a number of other commercial concerns.
The securities of the companies named in the Third Schedule to the Act will vest in the Corporation on 1st January, 1951, or as soon as practicable thereafter. When the Corporation is set up, I propose to consult its members about the earliest convenient date, and will make a further announcement.

The very grave statement to which we have just listened from the Minister of Supply will make it necessary for us to place a Motion on the Order Paper tonight regretting that at this most critical period in our national safety and affairs abroad we should be, by this act of the Government, plunged into the fiercest party controversy at home. We shall therefore place a Motion on the Order Paper tonight, and I ask the Leader of the House whether he will assign Tuesday for its discussion?

I was not quite sure whether the Opposition were wishing to take this on Tuesday, or perhaps take this rather than the less exciting subject chosen for the Debate on Monday. If it is the wish of the Opposition to hold to the existing Motion which I have announced for Monday and take this matter on Tuesday, well, then, all right; we will make arrangements accordingly, and the House must therefore be ready to meet on Tuesday as well as Monday.

Is the Minister aware that his statement will be received with great welcome among the working people of this country, and especially by the steel workers; and is he further aware that before the Recess the Leader of the Opposition and his party divided this House on a proposition to hand over our steel industry to a high authority on the Continent, thus denying the right of their countrymen to own and control their own steel industry?

On a point of order. I should like to be clear, before this discussion goes too far, to what extent we may comment on this matter, when, in fact, a day has been set aside for a Debate upon it.

Any comment must be made in the form of questions; otherwise, we would be anticipating the Debate which we are to have on Tuesday. It will have been noticed that the hon. Gentleman put his points in the form of questions, which is all that is allowed under the Rule.

Is not the Prime Minister aware of the grave economic circumstances that will exist in the great city of Sheffield, and will he not, before it is too late, realise that grave fact and the need for unity in this country today?

Arising out of the Minister's statement, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he does not think that it is absolutely essential at this present moment, in view of the international situation and in order to maintain as much unity as possible, not to introduce a highly controversial political matter at this time?

Yes, and therefore we are carrying out what was passed by Parliament. We are carrying out the Act, and I quite agree that, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition will wholeheartedly support this, we shall get rid of controversy.

Does the Prime Minister attach no importance to the fact that nearly two million of the electors recorded their votes at the last Election against this Measure—a majority of two million?

The right hon. Gentleman is now rather anticipating a future Debate and harking back to a past one. I did explain then that I did not think it was the practice of this House to try to evaluate how the votes cast in an election are affected by what had been done in a previous Parliament.

In view of the question put by the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), will the Prime Minister note that, in that part of Sheffield where the steel works are situated, and where most of the steel workers interested live, there is solid support for this Measure, and that the announcement made today will be taken as an indication by the steel workers in this country that, in their desire for national unity, the Government are really in earnest?

Is it not unhappily clear from this decision that even at this grave hour, the Government regard the unity of the Labour Party as more important than the unity of the nation?

May I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that, although the Iron and Steel Act was forced through in the last Parliament before the General Election, the question of taking over the iron and steel industry was an election issue, and that that issue was rejected by over two million votes at the last General Election?

I would point out that since then there have been some remarkable advances, retirements and side-stepping on the subject of the control of the steel industry by the Conservative Party.

I must say that I must express my very great regret to the Prime Minister that, with all the responsibilities that rest upon him he should have done this reckless, wanton and partisan act.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, at a time like this when the steel industry will be making huge profits out of the nation's needs, it should be owned by the nation?

Will the Minister, who has given us the names of those who have accepted appointment to the Corporation, give us the names, or at any rate the number, of those who have refused?

May I ask the Prime Minister, without prejudice at all to the grave defence issues which are raised, whether he would not agree that it is the prime responsibility of this House to alleviate the dire human misery in this country, and, therefore, whether we should not nationalise slums before we nationalise steel?

Is the Prime Minister aware that the pronouncement made this afternoon will be greeted with the greatest disappointment throughout the country, because it will disrupt the unity which has been demonstrated in this House this week, and that those engaged in the steel industry will view with great disappointment the appointment of a puppet board which they will regard with the contempt that it deserves?