HC Deb 18 April 1983 vol 41 cc6-7
4. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will arrange to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss future plans for the steel industry in Scotland.

Mr. Norman Lamont

My right hon. Friend and I meet Mr. MacGregor regularly to discuss matters affecting the British Steel Corporation's operations throughout the United Kingdom, including in Scotland.

Mr. Canavan

Is it true that Ian MacGregor is to remain on the British Steel Corporation board after he takes up the chairmanship of the National Coal Board? Is it also true that he has approached the Bethlehem steel company about a possible deal, similar to that crazy Fairless scheme whereby the British taxpayer will be expected to shell out £100 million in order to destroy over 2,000 Scottish steel jobs and possibly lead to the eventual closure of Ravenscraig, which would break the commitment given at the Dispatch Box on 20 December 1982 by the Secretary of State for Industry and which would necessitate his immediate resignation?

Mr. Lamont

An announcement about the BSC board will be made to the House in due course.

The hon. Gentleman will have seen in this morning's paper that BSC has denied making any approach to the Bethlehem steel company Any negotiations on another deal with an American steel company would be for the BSC, and no proposition has as yet been put to the Government.

Mr. Orme

The Minister has just referred to a statement in this morning's paper. Do not the Government feel that such rumours should be answered officially? Should not a statement be made in the House about the future of Ravenscraig? Thousands of jobs in Scotland are presently in jeopardy and we keep reading day after day about supposed negotiations, denials and further rumours. Do not the Government have a responsibility to come to the House to make a statement?

Mr. Lamont

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement about Ravenscraig in December and that statement still stands. The right hon. Gentleman must know that it is not possible to come to the House and make a statement every time that BSC is engaged in talks with some company or is discussing a deal in a particular market. I answered the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) by saying that the specific point that he raised had been denied by BSC, and I have no reason to doubt its denial.

5. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further contraction of the United Kingdom steel industry he envisages by the end of 1983.

Mr. Butcher

The size of the United Kingdom steel industry will depend upon its providing customers with good quality products from a competitive cost-base rather than on any forecast that I might make.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Minister aware that it is vital that there should be no further contraction in the United Kingdom's steel industry capacity, first, because a modern industrial economy needs a powerful steel capacity and, secondly, because if the process of contraction goes any further there will be a complete demoralisation of the work force?

Mr. Butcher

I am sure that the management of the steel industry will bear those factors in mind. We are concerned that morale should remain high and that the benefits that come from increased productivity in the steel industry should be used to maximum advantage.

Mr. Michael Brown

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is likely to be a contraction in the steel-making industry if the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation insists on taking its members out on strike in places such as south Yorkshire, and even in Scunthorpe, when there is no support for that action from the work force? Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to point out to the ISTC that the best way to help ensure that there is no further contraction of the steel industry is to make sure that its members have the opportunity to work when they wish to?

Mr. Butcher

My hon. Friend is right and his contention is borne out by the figures from the aftermath of the last disastrous steel strike when there was a surge in import penetration and a deliberate attempt to curtail production in the United Kingdom for so long that it seemed to some to be almost a death wish. That was the start of many of our current problems.

Mr. James Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that there is much perturbation, at least in the minds of Labour Members, because the corporate plan, which is now in the Government's hands, has not been produced in the House? Is he also aware that the Clydesdale tube works in my constituency badly needs investment, and will he do something about it?

Mr. Butcher

I shall certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman's observations about Clydesdale. It has not been the practice of previous Governments to lodge the corporate plan in the Library, because it often contains commercial and confidential information, but we shall, of course, publish our reactions to it.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my hon Friend accept that to be part of an industry that is dependent upon the taxpayer for subsidising its losses is no way to maintain morale? Will he ensure that his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government spend money on providing good replacement jobs rather than trying to prop up jobs that are no longer viable?

Mr. Butcher

There is a viable future for the British steel industry, and it is a viable future based on the usual principles that it should remain competitive and use its investment funds to best effect. There is no trade-off over money that one can save the BSC and allocate elsewhere. It all comes from the public Exchequer. We wish to see a movement to the newer industries and we also wish to see the newer technologies applied to the established industries.