HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc3-4
5. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will give a general direction to the British Steel Corporation to expedite the acceptance, completion and delivery of orders in view of the damaging effects on British industry of the present delays.

20. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will give a general direction to the British Steel Corporation to expedite supplies of steel to firms with large export commitments.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)

No, Sir. The British Steel Corporation is already doing all it can to meet the demand for steel.

May I add that the whole House will, I know, be saddened by the sudden and tragic death of Lord Melchett, who had played such an outstanding and courageous rôle in the British steel industry.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I am sure the whole House would echo what my hon. Friend has said about such an able and devoted man as Lord Melchett and would want to add its condolences to Lady Melchett in the circumstances.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the rest of his answer was not good enough? Does he appreciate that many companies actively engaged in exporting are having to decide whether to delay their exports or to import steel—and steel imports are rising? Is he further aware that many building projects are being seriously delayed as a result of the shortages and the failure, in some cases, even to open order books?

Mr. Boardman

I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that this is not a matter in which the Government can intervene between one customer and another. She will also realise that the present capacity is dependent upon the investment plans made between three and five years ago, which were then at a much lower level than they have been in the past three years. That capacity cannot be made up quickly.

Mr. Mitchell

We accept that the Government cannot intervene between one firm and another, but have the Government had any discussions with the British Steel Corporation to lay down some general guidelines about the corporation's rationing policy, and which group of exporting firms should be given priority? If they have not done so, will they do so?

Mr. Boardman

The corporation has told me of the general lines which it is following, but it would be wrong for me to intervene in general management decisions at this time. The corporation has obligations to its customers who require steel for work at home and for export purposes. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that total production of steel in the past five months is 13.2 per cent. above the comparable figure last year.

Mr. Rost

I accept that the British steel industry is again letting down the economy, as it has done ever since it was nationalised, but does not my hon. Friend agree that this is a further reflection of the lack of capital investment during the time when the previous Government were responsible for the corporation?

Mr. Boardman

Yes. My hon. Friend knows that investment prior to 18th June 1970 was at a very low level and that it has risen to a very high level during the three years of this administration, especially in the recent plans that have been announced.

Mr. Benn

I should like, Mr. Speaker, to associate myself and my hon. and right hon. Friends with what has been said by the Minister about Lord Melchett. Perhaps we may discuss the other matters on another Question.