HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc593-4
14. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on his response to the plan for the future of the British Steel Corporation submitted to him by Mr. Ian MacGregor.

Sir Keith Joseph

I expect to make a statement on the BSC corporate plan within the next few days.

Mr. Chapman

As a curtain raiser to that statement will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the past 10 years public subsidy to the British Steel Corporation has totalled no less than £5,000 million? In the light of that, will he say that it is not unreasonable for the hard-pressed taxpayer now to demand that any future subsidy should be seen patently to go in to sound capital investment rather than covering what appear to be ever-increasing operational losses?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the magnitude of the amounts that have been poured into the industry by the taxpayer. However, in the transition to a viable industry there are unavoidable costs, including closure and redundancy costs.

Mr. Denzil Davies

If the Government announce on Wednesday, as they probably will, further financial help to BSC—and my right hon. and hon. Friends and I approve of that—will the right hon. Gentleman also give the same financial help to other steelworks, such as Duport Steel in my constituency, to enable them to survive and provide more employment?

Sir Keith Joseph

I certainly share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about subsidised competition with the private sector. We shall do our best to protect the private sector from that. The Government certainly want to reduce assistance to the BSC rather than provide assistance for the private sector.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Does my right hon. Friend accept that when he makes his announcement he will have to give the BSC a large sum which will be much more than he wanted to give and much more than he said that he would have to give? Will he make sure that the money is not used—and there should be monitoring to ensure that this does not happen—to subsidise BSC's activities against the private sector?

Sir Keith Joseph

That is precisely the point which the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) emphasised and with which, in principle, I entirely agree. Where the private and public sectors overlap we are encouraging the evolution of joint partnerships.

Mr. James Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although he has not yet acquiesced to the corporate plan, job losses are already taking place in Scotland, including some in my constituency, and the engineering section under the auspices of the BSC is closing in June? As the right hon. Gentleman has not yet acquiesced to the plan, why are closures taking place?

Sir Keith Joseph

Under the legislation enacted by a Labour Government, who set up the BSC, the corporation needs no authority from me to close works or to dismiss staff.

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