HC Deb 09 February 1981 vol 998 cc585-6
4. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what consultations there have been with the British Steel Corporation on the British Steel Corporation corporate plan.

The Secretary of State for Industry (Sir Keith Joseph)

There have been frequent consultations between the Department and the BSC about the corporate plan, and I have had two discussions with the chairman.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

When does the Secretary of State intend to approve the corporate plan? Prior to that approval, will he examine the document which I delivered to his Department last Friday and to the office of the Under-Secretary of State entitled "The Ingot Mould Foundry Rationalisation Review" of 4 February this year which challenges the commercial assumptions of the corporation which have led to the recommendation that the Distington foundry be closed? In the light of the publication of that document, will the right hon. Gentleman put it to the British Steel Corporation that it should re-evaluate Distington and suspend its decision pending that re-evaluation?

Sir Keith Joseph

On the first part of the question, I hope to make a statement giving the response to the BSCs plan in the next few days. On the second part of the question, I understand that a document arrived this morning. From the little that I so far know of it, I judge that it is a matter for the management of BSC. I am sure that it will be studied by the BSC management.

Mr. Michael Brown

When my right hon. Friend makes his announcement later in the week, will he give the Government's view on the viability of the corporate plan? Is he aware that, though I represent a steel constituency, I do not believe that the security of the steel industry is necessarily dependent on the amount of money that the Government can put into the industry? Finally, what assurances has my right hon. Friend sought from the British Steel Corporation to the effect that its corporate plan will be commercially viable?

Sir Keith Joseph

The management and work force of BSC have to cope with the market as it evolves. We all hope that they will do their very best, but the market may continue to be hostile. No one can guarantee the outcome for any part of BSC or for BSC as a whole. It is up to the management and work force to do their very best in the current economic circumstances.

Mr. Hardy

As industrial recovery will have to occur some time, whether the present Administration desire it or not, are we not justified in questioning the adequacy of the envisaged capacity for steel production in the United Kingdom, especially in regard to special steels and, therefore, South Yorkshire, where world records have frequently been broken in the past and where they were again broken, in my constituency, a few days ago?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on one of the many difficult judgments that the management has to make. The Government also have to consider the cost to the taxpayer of keeping spare capacity. The house will know that the management proposes to keep some spare capacity unmanned for a future upturn.

Mr. Grylls

When my right hon. Friend considers the corporate plan, will he bear in mind that it is important that the private sector steel companies are not damaged by subsidised competition, particularly in common areas such as bars and steel billets and engineering steel?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend has also identified a crucially important subject about which the Government are deeply concerned. The Government have blessed the efforts by BSC and some parts of the private sector to see whether viable joint commercial partnerships can be evolved.

Dr. John Cunningham

I should think that the private steel manufacturers must be quaking if they have been blessed by the Secretary of State, given his effect on other industries in our economy. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, when he makes his statement about the MacGregor corporate plan, he will make clear exactly to what discussions between the British Steel Corporation and the private sector he has given his blessing, since clearly the Opposition also recognise the importance of many of the private sector steel makers?

Sir Keith Joseph

There is no mystery here. The details are commercial and are for the companies concerned and for BSC. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) identified in his supplementary questions, those concerns in the private sector whose trade overlaps with that of BSC have been and are in discussion with BSC about possible partnerships.