HC Deb 09 November 1970 vol 806 cc25-7
28 and 29. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) whether he will direct the British Steel Corporation to give guaranteed delivery dates for reinforcing steel;

(2) if, in view of the shortage of reinforcing steel which has caused increased imports and has affected building costs and building programme targets, he will give a direction to the British Steel Corporation to increase production.

Mr. Ridley

No, Sir. These are matters within the commercial responsibility of the British Steel Corporation.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he realise that the refusal of the British Steel Corporation to give guaranteed delivery dates for steel reinforcing rods means that building contractors with penalty clauses in their contracts are forced to import these rods at a greatly increased price? Can he say what tonnage of steel reinforcing rods was imported between September, 1969, and September, 1970, and what is the value of those imports?

Mr. Ridley

The policy of having cheaper steel than those prices which prevail in Europe has resulted in a tremendous drop in imports from 323,000 tons in 1968 to 87,000 tons in the first half of this year. That is what has accentuated the shortage of steel reinforcing rods and is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend thought it would be right to allow the recent price increase.

Mr. Lipton

Will the Minister consult with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on whether steel production could be increased if the steel industry were denationalised?

Mr. Ridley

I should have thought that there was no doubt at all that this present shortage would not have occurred if it had not been for the political mucking-about of the Labour Party.

31. Mr. Allason

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has for the reorganisation of the British Steel Corporation.

18. Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now make a statement on his policy regarding the structure of the steel industry.

Mr. John Davies

I am not yet in a position to make an announcement.

Mr. Allason

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the Constructional Engineering Division of the British Steel Corporation is essential? What guarantee is there that it undertakes fair trading? Is not this a gigantic, large-scale, direct-labour organisation?

Mr. Davies

I should not like to anticipate the results of the very profound discussions in which I am involved with the British Steel Corporation at the moment. The aim of the discussions is to try to develop a structure for the industry which will assure it of a prosperous and satisfactory future. But the discussions are exceedingly complex. It should not be forgotten that this is one of the largest industrial enterprises in Europe.

Mr. Michael Foot

If the right hon. Gentleman is engaged in profound and complex discussions about the future of the steel industry, would he tell the House what consultations he has had with the workers in the industry who produce the steel? Will he give a clear guarantee that before bringing to the House any proposals for changing the structure of the industry he will have consultations with the workers in the industry? Will he also confirm that the management in the industry is thoroughly opposed to what the Under-Secretary of State described a few moments ago as "mucking about" with the industry and that it is strongly in favour of the view that there should be no upheaval in the structure of the industry?

Mr. Davies

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will, of course, have discussions with the trade unions involved before any attempt is made to finalise arrangements to the point of bringing them to the House or elsewhere. On the question of the shape and structure of the industry, it would not be correct to say that the management of the industry is of the opinion that it should be left exactly as it is.

Mr. Lawson

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that whatever policies he eventually adopts will be based on facts which will be presented to the House for judgment and that he will not act on the basis of the doctrine which is so characteristic of him?

Mr. Davies

If the doctrine in question is to try to secure the prosperity and health of the industry, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall act on that principle.