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Transport, electricity, gas, iron and steel


In 1946, a transport bill went before parliament aimed at nationalising railways and road haulage. British Railways came into existence in 1947 without much opposition or controversy.

The road haulage legislation included the 'C licence' holders - the small operators who carried their own goods over relatively short distances. Many operators regarded nationalisation as an infringement of personal liberty. The government was eventually forced to concede, and 'C licence' holders were exempted from nationalisation.

Electricity and Gas

By 1945, many electricity generators were already under municipal control. The Labour government set up a British Electricity Authority over fourteen Area Boards. Electricity passed into full public ownership in April 1948.

A Gas Nationalisation Bill was introduced in 1948, provoking great resistance from the Conservatives. After many amendments, the legislation of July 1948 set up twelve Area Boards to form an all-embracing Gas Council controlling regional production and supply.

Iron and Steel

Iron and steel provided the most difficult case for the Labour government and there was much debate. There were no compelling structural reasons for nationalisation, the industry was profitable and had a good history of labour relations.

In 1946, the Cabinet deferred a nationalisation plan put forward by the Minister of Supply, John Wilmot, until 1948. A supervisory Iron and Steel Control Board was set up as an interim measure. The economic crisis of 1947 caused a further delay in implementation.

Another proposal Wilmot produced was put forward as the basis of a bill. It allowed the government to acquire shares in iron and steel companies without changing the organisation of the industry. The compromised form of nationalisation was much debated in Cabinet and eventually rejected.

In 1947, George Strauss, Wilmot's replacement, produced a proposal which provided the basis for nationalisation. It came into effect in May 1951 and involved shareholder buyouts, leaving the organisation of the industry intact. In 1953, the Conservatives reversed this nationalisation with the creation of the Supervisory Iron and Steel board.