HC Deb 22 May 1978 vol 950 cc1104-6
16. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

30. Mr. John Ellis

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next proposes to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

Mr. Varley

On 26th May 1978.

Mr. Marshall

Will the Secretary of State tell the chairman, when they meet, how much he approves of the recent joint venture between Redpath Dorman Long and the Dutch consortium which is to take over the metal oil platform erection business? Will he go further and say how much he would like the British Steel Corporation to seek more of these joint ventures, which will reduce the demand on the taxpayer and lead to a wider European framework of joint ventures for the corporation?

Mr. Varley

I can do no better than pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to the chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

Mr. Ellis

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the British Steel Corporation, will he make clear that he is looking to the chairman, in the current negotiations with the TUC steel committee, to come out of those discussions with full agreement with the trade union side? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is highly desirable that he does not at the end of the day simply adopt the British Steel Corporation's ideas but should involve the trade union movement and should continue the discussions, and that any workers fighting to save their plants or looking for investment in their plants should be given the opportunity to put forward their case so that they may have some of the confidence that has been sadly lacking in the plans of the British Steel Corporation since the end of the war?

Mr. Varley

I am not only meeting the chairman of the British Steel Corporation on Friday this week; I am meeting the TUC steel committee on Wednesday this week. One of the items on the agenda is the possibility of direct worker participation on the board of the British Steel Corporation in line with Government policy. I, like my hon. Friend, am keen that workers should participate.

Sir A. Meyer

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for me to receive a reply to the question that I asked in the Second Reading debate on the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill on 11th May, namely, what has happened to the British Steel Corporation's calculation that an expanded Port Talbot would supply Shotton with hot rolled coil a great deal more cheaply than Shotton could possibly make it, now that the exanded Port Talbot scheme is not to go ahead?

Mr. Varley

I recall the hon. Gentleman's speech on that occasion. I am sorry if he has not received a reply. I thought that during the debate I gave an undertaking to write to him. I will look into the matter. I have not been briefed on that aspect

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Secretary of State impress upon the chairman of the BSC that the policy of closures and redundancies cannot continue indefinitely and that the strategy of the 1960s might not be relevant to the late 1970s? Does he not agree that a policy of flexibility is now needed in steel strategy together with a major cut-back in the 5 million tonnes or so of steel that is still coming into the country?

Mr. Varley

The BSC must get its finances straight as quickly as is practicable. My hon. Friend will know that in the last financial year BSC, in common with many comparable steel companies overseas, lost money. It lost £440 million. Part of the Government's policy is that the financial objectives of the BSC should be to break even by the financial year 1979–80. We must approach these matters sensibly. One of the major factors is trying to bring demand into line with capacity. That will inevitably lead to some problems in some areas, but I think that the whole House will agree that we are dealing with the problem sensibly and humanely.