HC Deb 11 February 1981 vol 998 cc868-78
The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on borrowing powers of the British Steel Corporation. I will be introducing today the Iron and Steel (Borrowing Powers) Bill 1981, which will increase the British Steel Corporation's borrowing powers by £500 million. The Bill will enable the corporation to continue in operation on reaching the current statutory limit of its existing borrowing powers in the course of the next few weeks.

As the House will know, the Government received the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan shortly before Christmas. Decisions on the plan involve the consideration of very large sums of taxpayers' money, and will affect the position of a number of private sector companies whose areas of operation overlap those of the corporation. My right hon. Friend will be making a further statement to the House when the Government have reached their conclusions on the corporate plan. At that stage, as foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech, the Government will introduce a further Bill, which will deal with the future of the corporation and its financial reconstruction.

In view of the urgency of the corporation's need of increased borrowings, and the essentially interim nature of the Bill that I am introducing, I hope that the House will facilitate its swift passage.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Is the Minister aware that we are astonished that the Secretary of State is not making a statement today about the MacGregor plan? Is he further aware that the delay will create further uncertainty in the steel industry, which is already in a difficult position? What part have his Back Benchers played in the Secretary of State's withdrawal of his statement today? What pressure has been put on him to get him to change his mind when he had given a firm commitment that he would make a statement this week?

Does not the Minister agree that we need a plan for steel that includes the private sector? He should make the MacGregor plan and the private sector proposals the subjects of joint discussion. The trade unions and the management should be brought into the discussions. That is the way to proceed. Is the Minister aware that he could take action immediately, to help not only the BSC but the private sector? I refer to the need for action on energy costs. The Government should give support—as is the case in many other countries—to the steel industry. In view of the Minister of State's meagre statement, when will we have a full statement from the Secretary of State?

Mr. Tebbit

The House will receive a full statement from my right hon. Friend when we have completed consideration of the MacGregor plan and its implications. Energy costs and all other matters will be taken into account in the consideration of the plan. My right hon. Friend has not withdrawn his statement. I am making an interim statement today and my right hon. Friend will make his statement when the considerations are complete.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that any discussions taking place with the private sector will lead to genuine joint venture and partnership arrangements, and that any funds that may be voted by the House for the British Steel Corporation will not be used by it to eliminate competition in the private sector?

Mr. Tebbit

My right hon. Friend has raised matters that are relevant to our consideration of the MacGregor plan. Where there are joint ventures, the aim is that they should be undertaken by viable campanies that can stand free both from their private sector parent and from the British Steel Corporation.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

Does the Minister appreciate that this delay is causing concern among steel communities? Does he agree that the steel industry is too important to be left to the tender mercies of Tory Back Benchers, whether from Sussex or Bournemouth? May I draw his attention to the splendid performance of the Llanwern steelworks during recent months? Does he agree that those efforts need encouragement, and not the vindictive comments that they appear to be receiving from the Conservative side of the House?

Mr. Tebbit

I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in drawing attention to the great achievements of the management and the work force at works such as Llanwern. That is exactly what we intend should happen throughout the whole of the British Steel Corporation. There is no sense of vindictiveness. The hon. Gentleman and the House must recognise that huge sums of public money are involved. It would not be right to approve a plan without a thorough investigation of the way in which that money will be spent.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

Will my hon. Friend say for how long the additional £500 million borrowing power will enable the British Steel Corporation to continue trading? What is the cost of the MacGregor proposals? No figures have been mentioned so far for the price tag of the plan. When a full statement is made, will the Secretary of State say how much the British Steel Corporation is requesting?

Mr. Tebbit

When a full statement is made there will be a full account of the sums involved. My hon. friend is curious to know how long that money will last. It will be about six months, as matters stand at present. But circumstances can change, both for better and for worse, in such an industry during the present time.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Does the Minister realise that in cities such as Sheffield a great question mark is hanging over the entire steel industry? Does he recognise that the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) about energy prices is especially relevant, because every firm in the Sheffield and Rotherham area is facing catastrophic energy prices as a result of the Government's policies? Following current events at Linwood, every steel worker is wondering whether, this week, or next week, the Government will shut down major parts of the steel industry. What does the hon. Gentleman intend to do about bringing forward the meagre £500 million, so that there is enough money for the British Steel Corporation to continue production?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman should remember that a meagre £500 million is lp on income tax. He should have some sense of proportion.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

Before passing a Bill to provide an additional £500 million for the British Steel Corporation, will not my hon. Friend consider what the final commitment will be? Is it not correct that the MacGregor plan is requesting a capital reorganisation which, in total, will cost £4.5 billion?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend should not confuse the capital reconstruction, which may involve writing off money that has already been spent, with the commitment of new moneys. It would be as well to keep the two matters separate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would have preferred to bring forward a single Bill to cope with the problems of the BSC running against its borrowing limits and the longer-term reconstruction. However, it was not possible to bring forward the whole of that reconstruction plan quickly enough. Without this Bill, the BSC will run out of money. That is why I am introducing the Bill as an interim measure.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Is not the real problem that both the private and public sectors of the steel industry have reached the same conclusion about the sector in which maximum investment is required, and which, therefore, will produce maximum return on capital? How does the Minister hope to maintain a balance between a State-owned sector and a private sector and also maintain fair competition in that all-important part of the industry?

Mr. Tebbit

As always, with great skill and understanding.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that some of the money must go to those joint ventures between private steel makers and the BSC that his right hon. Friend intends should come about? Given the chronic liquidity position of the private steel makers that have so far been mentioned in this connection, some of what the Minister himself described as taxpayers' money will go indirectly to them. I hope that his right hon. Friend is listening, because he told some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), just before Christmas that it was his intention that the private steel makers should play a dominant role in the mergers. Will the hon. Gentleman now assure the House that in any such mergers it will be the BSC that fills the dominant role?

Mr. Tebbit

The mergers will be constructed in the best commercial interests of the companies and in the best interests of those who are employed by them. It is not necessary, therefore, that—as the hon. Gentleman implies—the public sector should have the dominant role. The record of the past 10 years suggests the opposite.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the private sector has had to face severe competition from the BSC, which is moving into what has hitherto been the private sector's field? What discussions is he having with it to ensure that State money does not provide unfair competition with a struggling private sector, much of which is in Sheffield?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend raises one of the crucial points of difficulty in the steel industry, but to a large extent the difficulties in both the public and private sector are caused by the extremely low prices being set throughout Europe by the considerable over-capacity there. It would be possible for both sides to refuse to meet such low prices, but the consequence would be that they would lose volume of production, lose their customers, and run into even heavier losses. This is a wider issue than mere competition between the public and private sector in the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Why did not the Secretary of State make the statement? Is it because he is finding it difficult to reconcile his dogma, the needs of the public sector, and the pressures of the private sector? How many Conservative Back Benchers with private interests saw the right hon. Gentleman before the statement today? Should not areas such as mine, which have gone through the anguish of the slimdown and lost thousands and thousands of jobs, be given security of tenure now? Is it not time the public and the private steel industry were allowed to produce the steel that this country needs?

Mr. Tebbit

It would be singularly foolish if my right hon. Friend were to keep four other dogs in the Department and do all the barking himself, all the time. We share the labour between us, in good Socialist style.

There is no question of worries on the part of my right hon. Friend about dogma. These matters are being dealt with, as always, in accordance with the practical policies that we put forward at the general election.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the 13 years since nationalisation the BSC has lost £1,500 billion in accumulated losses apart from investment? The private, independent steel companies have made a profit of £700 million over the same period. Therefore, will my hon. Friend make it a firm condition of the provision of the extra money for the corporation that it is put into a special account to be used only for redundancy and restructuring, and not for competition, which might well put the private sector companies out of business?

Mr. Tebbit

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. He must also understand that in the present state of the market in Europe, and the wider world beyond, if we were to prohibit the BSC or, if we had the powers, any private sector company from selling at a loss, we should condemn it to closing down its capacity on a massive scale. The matter is not quite as simple as my hon. Friend suggests. But I am fully aware of his anxiety and am as anxious as he is that State money should not be used to undermine companies that have a long and successful record in the industry.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie (Rutherglen)

Is the Minister aware of the oft-expressed view of senior officials of the BSC that the future of the steel industry in Scotland depended heavily on the Talbot car plant? In view of the announcement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland a few minutes ago, precisely how does the hon. Gentleman propose to help the steel industry, and other industries, in view of the difficult situation in which we now find ourselves?

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that we heard the news of the proposed closure of the Linwood plant this morning. Therefore, this would be swift time in which to react to the problem of what will happen to the steel industry in Scotland. It is one of the matters that we must consider as we look at the corporate plan.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

What does my hon. Friend propose to do for those private sector steel companies whose activities not only do not overlap with the BSC but are in direct competition with it, whose productivity has always been better than that of the BSC, whose profitability has never been in question, and whose ability to compete with European manufacturers of steel is not in question, but which now find their existence put in doubt by subsidised competition from the BSC?

Mr. Tebbit

I have been discussing the problems of a number of private sector companies with their representative in the past few weeks.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

I am not surprised.

Mr. Tebbit

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is not surprised, because a large number of jobs depend on those companies. I hope that he is as concerned about private sector jobs as he is about public sector jobs. Unhappily, although my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) says that some of the independent companies are well capable of meeting the competition from Europe, at present that can in many cases be only on the basis of making losses in the short term, and that adds to the difficulties.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Is the Minister aware that there will be keen disappointment in the steel industry that the statement on restructuring was not made this afternoon? Is he further aware that the Government's continual dilly-dallying on the issue will mean further indebtedness through rising interest charges on the debt already incurred?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to the disastrous consequences of the Beswick review, which was a political bodge job and damaged the steel industry. We are still picking up the bills for it. When sums of this sort are being asked for, and when we are dealing with an industry with as many problems, world-wide, as the steel industry has, I do not think it unreasonable that we should take more than a couple of months at the most to get the matter organised and get it right. We received the plan only shortly before Christmas.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

Given that there have been so many disastrous attempts to restructure the industry since nationalisation, does my hon. Friend accept that many of us on the Conservative Benches wish him to take a careful look at the plan and get it right? Will he please take some encouragement from today's announcement that steel export markets are beginning to pick up, and that if we can get the matter right agreat future lies ahead for the corporation?

Mr. Tebbit

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is only proper that we should take enough time to get the matter right. I am greatly encouraged by the news today of the success that Mr. MacGregor is having in selling steel overseas. That is in no small measure due to the manner in which much of the work force has responded to his leadership—the manner that, as the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) said, is typified—I hope—by what is happening at Llanwern.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of replies that I have received from the Under-Secretary in which he says that the Secretary of State will not use the powers available to him under section 5(3) of the Iron and Steel Act 1975? When there are arguments about actions taken by the corporation under the corporate plan, will the right hon. Gentleman intervene and use those powers to check that the corporation is taking the right route?

Mr. Tebbit

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes". The answer to the second part is "No".

Mr John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

Does my hon, Friend recall that he expressed the hope that the House would give a speedy passage to these additional borrowing powers? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind, given his replies to my hon. Friends the Ministers for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) and Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), that that speedy passage will be facilitated by whatever assurances my hon. Friend can give to the effect that the borrowing powers will not be used to enable BSC to underprice the private sector in a manner that the private sector—which has to rely on its own profitability—cannot challenge?

Mr. Tebbit

I shall do the best that I can to meet the proper concern of my hon. Friends and of the private steel companies, which are an important part of the industry.

Dr. Ifor Davies (Gower)

Is the Minister aware that the British Steel plan—which he states the Government are still considering—involves more than 1,000 men being made redundant in the most efficient tinplate plant in South Wales, namely, Velindre? Is he further aware that the works committee has submitted a work-sharing scheme that will reduce the number of redundancies by at least 50 per cent.? Will the Government consider that, and investigate the scheme before any conclusion is reached, so that employment may be safeguarded in that area?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman has made the case that there should be deep and careful consideration of all the implications of the plan before it is approved by the Government and put before the House.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

My right hon. Friend refers to an overlap of interest between the public and private sectors. Is that what we used to call competition? Even if one accepts the BSC's need for massive support, and even if one accepts the difficulties of protecting the private sector against unfair competition, is it not incumbent on my hon. Friend to spell out, before the extra loan is approved, exactly how he intends to ensure that the money is not used for an aggressive under-pricing policy by the BSC against the private companies that remain outside the schemes under contemplation?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend has spoken about overlapping and competition. Competition arises in the areas of overlap between the two. There is no difference between us about the use of words. My hon. Friend asked for an undertaking. These matters are being considered in relation to the corporate plan. It might be wrong—or even impossible—to pull out bits of the corporate plan and to put them before the House before the whole plan is placed before the House. However, I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I am as concerned as he is.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Does not the Minister realise that his hon. Friends are trying to set up an artificial and unnecessary conflict because they wish to make debating points about the public and private sectors? Does not he accept that the Government are clearly neglecting their duty to safeguard the interests of both sectors of the steel industry and of the steel-using industries? Does he accept that the Government have failed to deal not only with energy pricing but with coking coal subsidies, rail freight subsidies, interest rates and, above all, the international rate of sterling? That neglect is damaging the whole of British manufacturing industry.

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman seems a little out of sympathy with his colleagues. Some hon. Members want to rush the decision as if the sums of money were a matter of no import, and as if only trivial amounts were involved. Others seem not to care about the interests of private sector employees. They are clearly regarded as a lesser breed than employees in the public sector. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that we had to consider the interests of the whole industry. We are doing that, and that is why a statement has not been made today. It is taking longer than we had hoped.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us do not consider him a lucky dog to have new responsibilities, but are grateful that he has assumed them? Does he further accept that the private sector of the steel industry is glad that it has been given a further breathing space in which to submit an alternative plan? Does he agree that the private sector cannot accept that the BSC should compete with it on a subsidised basis and should be put in charge of negotiations on the future structure of steel, or that the taxpayer should enable the BSC to buy up those companies because they are in distress?

Mr. Tebbit

Whether extremely low market prices are, as some people say, caused by predatory pricing by the BSC, or whether they are caused primarily by the state of the market, it would be wrong to allow the private sector to die just because it does not have access to the same sort of funds as the BSC. It would not be right suddenly to start to subsidise the whole of the steel industry. We must consider how the two sides can conduct their affairs so that they both survive and become profitable.

Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)

Will the statement include any reference to the attempts being made by the BSC to create new jobs in the run-down steel areas? Is the Minister aware that in my constituency 8,000 steel jobs have been lost in 11 months? Will he consider placing the Datsun-Nissan plant on the banks of the River Dee? Will he bear in mind that my area has suffered far too many job losses?

Mr. Tebbit

I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is tragic that so many jobs should have been lost in such a short period in order to make the steel industry competitive in world terms. I know that the hon. Gentleman and those who represent constituencies in that area will not be found lacking in their efforts to bring the attractions of the area to the notice of the Nissan company. Ultimately, Nissan will make the decision. It is important that the company should have the best possible chance of the long-term success that others have failed to achieve.

Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

Given the previous statement made on the demise of Linwood, what will happen to Ravenscraig? My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) and others were told that it was necessary for Ravenscraig's survival that Shotton should go. Does my hon. Friend realise that if Ravenscraig goes now, I shall find it difficult to explain it to those who have lost their jobs in North Wales and Merseyside?

Mr. Tebbit

Those matters might well be explored during the debate on the larger issue of the corporate plan. That debate will give a better indication of what may happen to some of those plants.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

Does the Minister agree that no matter what plans are prepared, or which poodle happens to come to the Dispatch Box to announce them, both the public and private steel sectors will be imperilled unless Government policy is changed? Does not he agree that there has been a great delay? Will he give an assurance that that delay did not take place in order to soften up the BSC, and that the little-subsidised, world-breaking and modern plant in my constituency will not be imperilled and will not lose its State majority shareholding?

Mr. Tebbit

If the hon. Gentleman imagines that one could ''soften up" Mr. MacGregor by taking a few extra days or weeks to consider the plan, I can only conclude that the hon. Gentleman has never met Mr. MacGregor.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my hon. Friend accept that we recognise the difficult tasks involved in any consideration of the steel industry? Does he further accept that we are glad that he pointed out that the private steel industry is as important as the nationalised sector? The House recognises that the waterfall must go on. However, is private industry to be placed in a two-pronged situation? Does my hon. Friend agree that if money is poured into British steel it will make it more difficult for the private steel industry to compete? If something is not done about phoenix 1 and phoenix 2 it will mean the death of private steel. Many of us would find it unacceptable if we ended up with the phoenix being burned and the albatross being left alive. It is wrong that private steel, which competes and has tried to be profitable, should suffer while the nationalised part of the industry gets away with it.

Mr. Tebbit

I followed my hon. Friend very carefully through his ornithological comparisons. I can only say to him what I have said to others of my hon. Friends and to a number of Opposition Members, some of whom I know have a considerable concern for the private sector. It is our intention that the British Steel Corporation should not use funds to destroy the independent sector of the British steel industry. Equally, my hon. Friends will have to understand that there will continue to be grave losses made by and grave dangers to all parts of the steel industry until the market is restored to some sort of sanity by the removal of excess capacity in Europe as a whole.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I hope to call all those hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye, but I hope that their questions will brief.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

Does not the Minister realise that some of his replies and the attitudes of a number of those hon. Members sitting behind him lead Opposition Members to believe that the Government and their supporters wish only for the death of the British Steel Corporation? Will he now assure the House that that is not the intention? Will he also answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther), who suggested that Government policies of high interest rates and high energy costs had put the steel industry in this position? Does the Minister appreciate that the Opposition wish to see a thriving steel industry in both the public and the private sectors, and full employment, whereas the Government and their supporters seem to belong to a party of unemployment?

Mr. Tebbit

It is entirely unjust of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) to suggest that any of my hon. Friends is interested in the death of the British Steel Corporation. Certainly I am not. I should hardly be introducing a Bill requiring a further £500 million of public borrowing for the BSC if it were for its death. It would be one of the most expensive funerals on record at that price.

As for the general conduct of the economy in relation to the steel industry, I know that the Opposition cannot accept that the conquest of inflation should have priority over all other matters of policy. The plain fact is that however much inflation was increased in the time of the last Government, that only increased unemployment, as well. We have no intention of following those policies again.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

Will the Minister now assure the House that the Government will provide the same kind of financial help as they are providing for British Steel to private steelworks, such as Duport Steel, in my constituency—steelworks that are efficient, productive and under considerable strain at the moment, through no fault of their own?

Mr. Tebbit

I must give the right hon. Gentleman exactly the same answer as that which I gave to my hon. Friends, who in large numbers put the same point to me. These are matters that must be considered in the context of the plan for British Steel and, indeed, for the industry as a whole. I am not sure that we can necessarily bind ourselves to support with public money every steelworks in the country.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

When will the hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State bring forward this statement? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency the firm of Boulton and Paul, which is more than 200 years old, and is recognised to be efficient and competent, has just had to declare several hundred redundancies? Does not the Minister agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) that he has to bring forward a plan covering the whole of the steel industry—public and private sectors? When will he come forward with a statement of policy?

Mr. Tebbit

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman can have been listening earlier. I told the House that my right hon. Friend would bring forward the Government's response to the British Steel Corporation's plan when we had completed our consideration of it.

Mr. Orme


Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman asks me when. I have told him when. It will be brought forward when it is ready. He will have to exercise a little patience. It is not unreasonable to ask him to do that, bearing in mind the magnitude of the issues, which he emphasised, and the sums of money involved, which I have emphasised.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the amount of money poured by him and his colleagues into the British Steel Corporation and other nationalised industries is such that if no more than 0.1 per cent. had been given to our fishing industry only five years ago it would have remained a viable industry? Are not we betraying our pledges to the electorate in 1979?

Mr. Tebbit

No. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether the Minister can confirm into which area of the Tory Party's original policy this statement and the one in a fortnight's time will fit. Does he accept that the cold winds of monetarism, which have blown holes in the British Steel Corporation, are now beginning to shatter the private steel sector? Was it not thought originally that as a result of the ratchet being shifted away from the public sector the leaner and fitter private sector would benefit? What has happened to that? Will the Minister confirm also that the Government are launching these little lifeboats in answer to all the demands from the private sector? If he intends to make another statement, as undoubtedly he does, would not it be a good idea, to put the record straight, to make a statement about how much assistance is being given to the private sector, thereby contradicting Tory Party policy?

Mr. Tebbit

Perhaps I may say first to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), whom, sadly, we have missed for some time, how glad I am, personally, to see him back and how much we all enjoy his flow of smooth and urbane wit, to which we have become accustomed over the years.

Coming to the point of the hon. Member's question, the statement that my right hon. Friend is to make will fit, in every detail, into the policy on which we fought the general election.

Mr. Orme

May I press the Minister to tell us when we shall get the full statement? He must be aware that Mr. MacGregor, appointed by the Secretary of State for Industry, said before Christmas that it was essential to have an early reply. If he feels that it is important, why is it being delayed? Will it be days, or weeks? I believe that the House is entitled to know.

If the Minister wants to assist both the private and the public sectors he could take action about imports, not least those from West Germany, which has a heavily subsidised steel industry and heavily subsidised coking coal. Action could be taken in that regard.

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) keeps repeating questions to which I have already given the best answers that I can.

Mr. Orme

They are not good enough.

Mr. Tebbit

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. MacGregor is perfectly happy about the course of events in the Government's consideration of the plan. I can assure him that he has no need to expect my right hon. Friend's statement this week. I cannot go further than that.

As for imports from other parts of the Community, the right hon. Gentleman knows that his own Administration—although he was not concerned directly with these matters—faced similar demands during their five years in office. They also faced similar constraints on their freedom of action.