HC Deb 07 July 1980 vol 988 cc21-2
15. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what progress is being made with the capital reconstruction of the British Steel Corporation; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Keith Joseph

As my hon. Friend told the House on 22 May, we intend to introduce legislation in the next parliamentary Session to provide for a capital reconstruction of the British Steel Corporation. The timing, extent and scope of the reconstruction have not yet been determined.

Mr. Hooley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the £2,000 million of taxpayers' money that has been put into the British Steel Corporation over the past few years has created an industry of enormous modern technological productive capacity? Will it not be an act of folly to massacre that industry, which is capable of producing real wealth to the tune of £4,000 million a year?

Sir K. Joseph

It is true that the industry has been equipped by the taxpayer to a large extent with massive modern plant. However, low productivity, an under-emphasis on the market and a lack of competitiveness mean that the taxpayer has, to some extent, a bad investment, and part of it will have to be written off.

Mr. du Cann

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to keep in mind the suggestion that I made to him a few days ago—namely, that in view of the serious situation in the steel industry, and while recognising the immense problems facing the new chairman, he should seriously consider making a further statement on the position of the steel industry, the Government's intentions towards it and the chairman's plans before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Sir K. Joseph

I shall bear in mind my right hon. Friend's suggestion. I think that he will agree that not even the parliamentary timetable should truncate the time needed by the new chairman to assess the position.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that I have the tube producing side of the steel industry in my constituency? A multi-pass mill is required urgently to enhance expertise in the tube producing sector and to enable it to enter world markets. Is it right that the Government, on behalf of the BSC, are about to announce the hiving-off of the tube manufacturing side to private industry?

Sir K. Joseph

I do not know of any such intention, but I am sure that the chairman of the corporation will read the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. John Silkin

If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about keeping a bulk steel industry—I thought that his answer the other day was highly ambivalent—why does he talk about low productivity in relation to the closure of the Consett works? Does he not accept that that plant is viable and extremely well and productively operated?

Sir K. Joseph

The right hon. Gentleman's party introduced legislation which left decisions on such issues to the British Steel Corporation. It was its judgment.