HC Deb 19 February 1979 vol 963 cc6-8
5. Mr. Gow

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

17. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will seek a meeting with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

My right hon. Friend expects to meet Sir Charles Villiers later this week.

Mr. Gow

Bearing in mind that the losses of the Corporation were £443 million in the year ended 1 April 1978, can the Minister tell the House what is his latest estimate of the loss of the Corporation for the year ending 1 April 1979? Secondly, can the Minister tell the House by how much he expects the manpower of the Corporation to fall during the next financial year, ending 1 April 1980?

Mr. Kaufman

At this stage I cannot give an estimate of what the annual loss is likely to be. The hon. Gentleman will know of the half-yearly figures that were given. We do not expect the second half-yearly figures to be as low as that in view of such developments as the road haulage strike. On his second point, demanning is a matter for the Corporation in consultation with the unions.

Mr. Marshall

Can the Minister tell us what he estimates to be the effect on the Corporation of the recent loss of production through industrial disputes? There has been a lay-off of 26,000 people. What financial impact will this have, and how will it affect the Corporation's hope to break even by this time next year?

Mr. Kaufman

I sought an estimate on that from the Corporation. While the strike was taking place its tentative preliminary estimate was that it was costing £30 million. That figure may be high, but clearly it cannot have helped towards the break-even point.

Mr. John Ellis

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Steel, will he impress on him the desirability of looking at the industry as a whole on any decisions that may have to be taken? Does he agree that the fullest consultation with the trade unions is imperative? Does he agree that there should be agreement, and not just consultation, on the future of this great industry?

Mr. Kaufman

Whenever the Corporation has proposals for a closure, the Government have required it to consult the Trades Union Congress steel committee and the local work force. We have asked the corporation to seek to obtain agreement, and trust that it will do so. In the past 12 months every closure has been on the basis of agreement. But I repeat to my hon. Friend that in the end the Trades Union Congress steel committee or the local work force cannot have a veto on decisions that the Corporation needs to make in order to achieve overall viability. If overall viability is not achieved, the steelworks in my hon. Friend's constituency will also be damaged.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does it remain the Government's attitude that the Davignon plan offers the best method of securing the continuation of a viable European steel industry? If so, how does he explain the conduct of his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on 25 January in accepting the existence of the Davignon plan and then urging his hon. Friends to vote against it?

Mr. Kaufman

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State cast a sensible vote. I would have followed him into the Division Lobby had I not been detached for other duties. The Davignon plan is a plan to sustain the steel market. At the Council of Ministers I have paid tribute to Viscount Davignon for that part of the arrangements. But it boils down to the Commission seeking to intervene in the right of the British Government to aid their own steel industry, and the resolution passed by this House is a resolution that I shall be taking to Brussels with me next month.

Mr. Hardy

As the Opposition will not do so, will my right hon. Friend commend the Corporation for its continuing and determined efforts to achieve viability and its continuing and increasingly successful endeavour to promote the quality of production and increasingly to achieve efficiency in operation?

Mr. Kaufman

I wish that the Opposition would on this issue, if on no other, voice the tributes paid to Sir Charles Villiers by the Daily Express, which go somewhat beyond even the admirable tributes paid by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Norman Lament

Has the Minister seen the press reports that suggest that Corby is to be closed before Shotton because Corby is not in a marginal seat? Will the Minister confirm the doctrine that he last week spelt out as applying to British Shipbuilders, namely, that decisions on closures were decisions for management and management alone?

Mr. Kaufman

I have never read such bunkum as the statement in The Observer yesterday on this issue. The Observer has a long record of accuracy on many matters, and I am astonished that in about three weeks it should have printed two totally innaccurate stories about the British Steel Corporation.