HC Deb 21 June 1972 vol 839 cc444-7
4. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will arrange for the Scottish Development Department to carry out a study into the number of jobs which are likely to be lost in Scotland during the next 12 months.

Mr. Younger

The Scottish Office and the other Departments concerned are already in close touch with employment trends in Scotland.

Mr. Strang

Does the Minister accept that as long as unemployment in Scotland remains at its present level any decision to pay off people in the nationalised industries is a political decision? Following yesterday's monstrous and appalling announcement connected with the steel industry, is there no limit to the misery and demoralisation which the present pathetically ineffective Secretary of State for Scotland is prepared to accept for the working people of Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I would not accept any of the epithets which the hon. Gentleman has thought up during the morning. I remind him that in the midst of our concern at the announcement which was made by the steel industry—which is the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—we should bear in mind three things. First, in the terms of the hon. Gentleman's question, there are no redundancies within the next 12 months. Secondly, the objective, stated in yesterday's announcement, is to modernise the Scottish steel industry, which is something I should have thought all of us would have supported. Thirdly, there will be considerably more than £60 million new investment in the Scottish steel industry, which also ought to be welcomed.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Is it not a somewhat dangerous precedent for an announcement of this character, affecting the long-term strategy of the corporation in deciding to close the open hearth furnace in question, to be made in such a situation and not to be made in the House, particularly bearing in mind that on 8th May we had a statement on the future long-term strategy for the industry, when we were given a clear assurance that this was being discussed between the BSC and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and that no announcement would be made until later this year? Was my hon. Friend consulted about this matter? Does not he regard this as a dangerous precedent?

Mr. Younger

Most of the points made by my hon. Friend—I readily recognise his concern and that of other hon. Members—should be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. On my hon. Friend's other point, the steel industry has to make its announcements like any other industry. If hon. Members on the Opposition benches object to that, they might have thought of that before they nationalised it.

Mr. Lawson

Will the hon. Gentleman try to persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement on this matter, which is extremely important for all of us in Scotland? Will the hon. Gentleman do his utmost to ensure that whatever steel-making capacity in Scotland is put out, it is replaced with at least the equivalent amount, so that we are not put in a position of having to import crude steel from England for rolling in Scotland? Will he further ensure that effective action is taken over the period to ensure that any redundancies which occur are made good by new jobs being brought into the area?

Mr. Younger

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's last point, I consider it important that at all times we should have a vigorous policy of attracting new industry to replace the jobs lost, whether they are in the steel industry or in anything else. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken exceptional steps to achieve this, introducing the best system of regional incentives we have ever had. This policy is in the interests of all of us, particularly those with constituents involved. It should be borne in mind that the background to what was said yesterday was a modernisation of the industry in Scotland. It is perfectly clear that the steel industry has in mind that Scotland will be one of its major parts in the future and that will be reassuring to some of us.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is it not hypocrisy by right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition, who sacrificed the independence of the Scottish steel industry on the altar of nationalisation, now to moan about the consequences?

Mr. Younger

I remember my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), warning us about this when the Bill to nationalise the industry was going through Parliament. However, I do not remember any sympathy for their point of view from the present Opposition.

Mr. Lambie

If the British Steel Corporation decision announced yesterday was a plan for the modernisation of the Scottish steel industry, why is not the Under-Secretary making a statement today about the future of the integrated green fields site at Hunterston? In my constituency we do not need any study to see how many jobs will be lost. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Garnock valley 54 per cent. of the male population at present employed at Glengarnock will lose their jobs? It is no surprise that we in Scotland will have to pay for the Government's policy of entering Europe.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman spoils his case by wrongly stating what was said perfectly clearly in the newspapers. Dr. Finniston took particular trouble to explain the position about Glengarnock. The hon. Gentleman ought to be fair and make that clear. It does none of us any good to exaggerate the situation with which we are faced.

Mr. Ross

Is not the most serious part of the Under-Secretary's answer the suggestion that the Secretary of State is now side-stepping his responsibilities for the Scottish economy? Will he bear in mind that, whilst we welcome the modernisation, we have been pressing continuously for Scotland's share in a new modernised steel industry, and the Secretary of State has committed his whole reputation to steel developments at Hunterston? Are we to take it that he has resigned from that position? If he has, would not it be better to resign from the position he holds in the Government?

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman ought to know that my right hon. Friend is side-stepping nothing and that his responsibilities in this matter are precisely the same as were the right hon. Gentleman's responsibilities when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. It does the right hon. Gentleman's case and reputation no good to twist and distort these facts, because as he has presented them they are quite out of tune with the real facts.