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Nationalised Industries

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1952

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asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made in his investigations into the nationalised industries.

It is only gradually that the full results of the policy of nationalisation become apparent. The most noticeable case at present is, of course, in the sphere of transport, where severe increases in London Transport fares have taken place under the authority of a judicial body over which neither Her Majesty's Government nor the House of Commons have any control. Further heavy increases in railway passenger fares outside London are pending as the result of the decisions of the Tribunal.

We intend to de-nationalise road haulage at the earliest possible moment. Details of the Government's intentions in this respect will be announced shortly after the Easter Recess.

It was announced in the King's Speech on 6th November that a Bill would be introduced to annul the Iron and Steel Act with a view to the re-organisation of the industry under free enterprise and with an adequate measure of public supervision. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply amplified this on 12th November and said that the creation of an Iron and Steel Board, embracing the whole industry, would be an essential feature of the Government's proposals. Meanwhile he has given a direction to the Corporation not to alter the financial structure or management of the publicly-owned companies or to sell or dispose of the undertakings or securities without his consent.

Serious increases in the cost of gas and electricity do not require any special comment by me today.

Good results have been achieved in the coalfields.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain, for the benefit of the House, how the de-nationalisation of road transport can do anything to prevent the increase in railway fares?

If the Leader of the Opposition will look at the Question asked by the hon. Member, he will see that it was of a general character and dealt not merely with road transport but with the nationalised industries.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he had been present at the debate last night, he would know the difference between Conservative promises on generalities and their dealings with the particular? I was interested because I understand—and the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that all authorities on transport are agreed that if we are to keep the railways going they must be integrated with the road services. As he seems to have discovered a different way, I thought that perhaps he could throw some light on it.

As to the question of generalisations versus particularisations, as I said, the Question was in general terms; but a similar question might have been addressed to the right hon. Gentleman in former times as to whether, in regard to the solving of the housing problem, he and his party were not equally falsified by their performance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, although it is quite true that the Question was a general one, the answer was particular?

I welcome the Prime Minster's statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in so far as it may lead to the removal of some of the obstacles to cheaper transport, but will he give an assurance that he will protect the public against monopolies, whether private or public? Secondly, is he in a position to make any statement as to the steps which he may intend to take to give greater control to consumers and to Parliament over those industries which will remain nationalised?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in regard to the supplementary question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that in the Provinces, where there is competition, the cost of transport is considerably cheaper than it is in the London area?

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind when investigating these matters that there is a very large body of opinion in the country which believes that there was a considerable amount of sabotage in the nationalised industries by people who desired to bring them into disrepute in the country?

I do not think that there is any foundation for such an assumption. We, on the other hand, encountered a lot of difficulties in clearing up the mess which was made in regard to these industries. In reply to the first part of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), it seems to me that, in regard to transport, the great thing is to meet the needs of the consuming public, while at the same time safeguarding the conditions of employment of the railwaymen.

May I ask the Prime Minister to read the last sentence of his reply again, as I gathered from that that the Government are convinced that the nationalisation of the coal mining industry has been a blessing and a boon to the country?

I have always thought that the men who do this hard manual work, with danger, and far from the light of the sun, should have special consideration, and I used these very words long before many of the hon. Gentlemen opposite were born, when introducing the miners' eight-hour day Bill.