HC Deb 19 November 1973 vol 864 cc945-7
26. Mr. Woodhouse

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will direct the British Steel Corporation to ensure that when steel is in short supply it should be rationed, with particular regard to the needs of long-established customers.

Mr. Peter Walker

I have recently discussed the general pattern of steel shortages with the BSC, the CBI and steel producers and consumers. I am confident that the BSC is allocating the available supply as fairly as possible.

Mr. Woodhouse

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's reply, but does he not regard it as unreasonable that the British Steel Corporation should completely refuse to a long-standing customer an allocation in the first period of next year, as occurred in a case in my constituency of which I have sent him details?

Mr. Walker

I cannot answer on the details of my hon. Friend's constituency problem, but I shall see that careful consideration has been given to that application. There may be factors of which I am not aware. We have created a sort of clearing-house organisation with stockists and the BSC so that such cases are dealt with.

Mr. Barry Jones

Would it not be wise also to aim for a higher annual tonnage target in the steel strategy announced by the Secretary of State? Would not that mean that there would be fewer redundancies in the steel industry and that there would be a better chance of steel workers retaining their jobs in borderline cases such as that of the Shotton steelworks?

Mr. Walker

In my original announcement I made perfectly clear that the strategy was flexible and that, within that strategy, the corporation could decide what variations it wished to make. I am sure that it will do just that.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon Friend aware that there is something approaching growing alarm and despondency in the West Midlands at the severe shortage of steel which is now affecting many manufacturers there, large and small? Will he deny the rumours that British steel is being exported to Europe and then reimported and sold on the black market?

Mr. Walker

If my hon. Friend has specific evidence of that being done, I shall be very glad to receive it. In practice, our total exports from a relatively small proportion of our total production, and our exports and imports of steel, both relatively low figures, are broadly in balance.