HC Deb 07 December 1981 vol 14 cc568-70
7. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Industry how far his examination of the case presented by the private steel industry for help with restructuring has progressed; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what plans he has to provide public money to assist the private sector of the special steels industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I am considering the representations made to me by the British Independent Steel Producers Association on which I hope to take a decision shortly.

Mr. Miller

I thank my right hon. Friend for looking into the private steel industry's case. Will he bear in mind the resentment that it still feels that EEC aid has not been distributed even-handedly in relation to redundancies? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Britain is the only country that persists in confining EEC decisions to its steel corporation rather than to the steel industry as a whole?

Mr. Jenkin

Such considerations prompted me to accede to the association's request that I should at least look at its case. I say, entirely without commitment, that the factors to which my hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the House apply in this way only to steel. That makes it right to examine the industry in the way that I am examining it.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Secretary of State aware that if his proposals are designed to preserve jobs and capacity in the special steels industry, they will be welcomed? Is he further aware that if he dithers much longer, there will be no special steels industry to preserve?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the announcement on special steels by the European Commission on 23 October, which specifically recognised the problems of the United Kingdom industry. The Commission has undertaken to take steps to restabilise the market to achieve higher prices for producers. That is in direct response to the action that we took in conjunction with the British Independent Steel Producers Association as a follow up to the Warner report.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many private steel companies believe that, if they had been treated on a fairer basis, more of them would still be in business today? Is he further aware that if a decision is not soon made on the aid that is to be given, the few firms that are left might follow other private sector firms down the hill and have no business left?

Mr. Jenkin

I well understand the urgency of the matter. I hope to make a statement fairly soon.

Mr. Hardy

Has the Secretary of State met representatives of the people who manage and work in the private sector of the special steels industry? If so, have they made it clear—if not, I do so—that although the EEC measures might be welcome, the problem is not so much one of structure, but that other Governments, both within and out of the Community, are more determined to ensure that their special steels industries are successful?

Mr. Jenkin

The special steels industry has a future. I make it clear that it is not a question of propping up a dying industry. The special steels industry has a real, long term future in Britain. In the European context, it is important to ensure that the aids given by the EEC or individual Governments are fair and that they do not distort competition.

Mr. Hardy

But they do.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but our intention is to ensure that they do not. This week I am chairing an informal meeting of Industry Ministers at which we intend to require that the Commission shall apply rigorously and fairly the June decisions of the Council of Ministers on aids to the steel industry.

Mr. Moate

Are the Government in strict compliance with the European Coal and Steel Community and EEC rules when they restrict disbursement of subsidies for restructuring solely to the public sector?

Mr. Jenkin

I am advised that we are complying strictly with the rules. The justification for confining the aid to the British Steel Corporation is not at first blush self-evident. That is why I am examing proposals put to me by BISPA.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition welcome support for private steelmakers in Britain, especially special steels manufacturers? In view of his comments this afternoon, will he explain why it has taken five months for the Government to reach a decision? We debated the issue in July. Did not the Warner report make it clear that, without a substantial help, which can come only from the Government, much of our special steels industry would not survive?

Mr. Jenkin

I wish that all Opposition Members shared the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the private sector of the steel industry—[HON Members: "We do."] That is not apparent from what they have said over the years. I saw the BISPA delegation within two weeks of taking my present office.

Mr. Peter Hardy

Too long.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but we have moved quickly. It is a complicated matter. I understand the urgency involved in announcing a decision one way or the other.