HC Deb 28 January 1974 vol 868 cc17-9
14. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what changes he proposes in his long-term steel strategy in the light of the latest economic outlook.

Mr. Peter Walker

The British Steel Corporation's long-term development strategy is essentially flexible and allows for the latest economic forecasts to be taken into account as planning proceeds. I do not foresee changes in the main features of the strategy as published in the White Paper, Cmnd. 5226.

Mr. Jones

In view of the developing world energy crisis, are the Government justified in putting all their eggs into the one jumbo-size steel plant basket, especially as that may well cost not £3,000 million but £5,000 million? Will they not ask that the strategy be altered to the extent that there would be one medium-size 2½-million ton plant, and could that not be at Shotton, in that way helping to save some of the 6,000 jobs there which will otherwise go?

Mr. Walker

As regards Shotton, I understand that BSC and trade union representatives met on Friday, when the trade unions put forward counterproposals to the closure of steel making, and I am sure that the corporation will consider those proposals quickly and impartially. It is the corporation's responsiblity, and I cannot anticipate the outcome of discussions which are taking place between the men and management at Shotton.

Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

In view of the importance of coal to the steel industry, are steps being taken to ensure that the secret ballot which is about to take place remains secret and that miners are not subjected to intimidation?

Mr. Walker

The National Union of Mineworkers has always been proud of the trouble it has taken to see that these ballots are conducted on a truly democratic basis, and I am sure that both sides of the House will expect it to proceed in the same way on this occasion.

Mr. Ashley

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to visit the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, where he would see a vivid, exciting and convincing portrayal of the reasons for retaining Shelton steelworks? Does he realise that it would be an act of great folly to close this steelworks, which has such a distinguished history of steel production, and could still have a distinguished future if the British Steel Corporation were prepared to invest a few million pounds?

Mr. Walker

I have always been worried about going to the theatre since Abraham Lincoln went to one on a certain occasion.

Sir R. Cary

If Shotton is to be refurbished, would it not be only fair that Irlam should receive the same treatment?

Mr. Walker

In all these matters the important consideration is that the British steel industry, which is of such interest to British steel workers, shall have a future as compared with other steel industries throughout the world. This is why the steel unions applauded the massive injection of new capital which the present Government agreed to put into the industry. I recognise that there are serious problems for a number of steel plants, and on every one of these the British Steel Corporation has agreed to enter into most detailed discussions with those concerned. In my view, the corporation is pursuing a responsible and correct policy.

Mr. Lambie

In the light of the past history of the rundown of coal mining, why will not the Government agree to review the long-term strategic plans of the British Steel Corporation? As an interim step, will they stop all immediate closures, especially those involving the 6,500 redundancies which are to take place in the Scottish steel industry?

Mr. Walker

I can well understand the hon. Gentleman being sensitive about the rundown of the coal industry, which this Government have reversed. We are not running down the steel industry. We have agreed to a massive investment in the steel industry in order substantially to increase production, which the previous Government did not agree to.

Mr. Benn

As the real damage to the steel industry now arises from the policy of confrontation which the Government have adopted towards the mining industry, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to an article which appeared in the first edition of The Times today calling for a 35 per cent. offer to the miners, and may I ask him also to inquire why the second edition of that newspaper excluded that reference?

Mr. Walker

I am not responsible for The Times. If the right hon. Gentleman is seriously worried about the future of the steel industry, he should urge the miners to vote against strike action.