HC Deb 29 June 1983 vol 44 cc566-7
7. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been the operating loss of the British Steel Corporation during the past 10 years; and what this loss represents in terms of pounds per employee of the corporation.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Butcher)

Between 1972–73 and 1981–82 the British Steel Corporation's trading results after depreciation but before interest, taxation and extraordinary items, showed a total loss, net of profits, of £1,320 million at actual prices. On the same basis, the results measured in pounds per employee each year ranged between a profit of £591 in 1974–75 to a loss of £4,045 in 1980–81 and averaged a loss of £1,139 over the 10-year period.

Sir Anthony Meyer

When my hon. Friend takes into account what has happened at Shotton and Corby, will he reflect on whether that money might not be much better used launching new industries that have a brighter future —such as service industries—and investment in tourism in which the cost per employee is much lower?

Mr. Butcher

I read with interest what my hon. Friend said in the debate on the Loyal Address. The existence or otherwise of industries of various types will depend on how different sectors of the economy and different industries within them respond to competition. It surely cannot be true that we should deploy resources from one sector of the economy to another regardless of the performance in those sectors.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Minister bear in mind that the greatest sacrifices that the steel industry has made to the EC have been made by the British Steel Corporation? Is he aware that BSC is now most competitive? Should he not talk about what is now the case rather than about the past?

Mr. Butcher

It is precisely with the future in mind that my right hon. Friend advanced a pugnacious defence of British steel interests in Europe last week. As part of the corporate plan, we have said that there will be five integral steelworks. My right hon. Friend has also said as strongly as possible that the onus is on our EC partners to reduce their capacity in line with the reduction of capacity in Britain, but mainly with competitiveness as the major guideline.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does the Minister appreciate that his hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) has always had a death wish for the British steel industry? Does he agree that that industry is vital to Britain's survival as an industrial nation, especially if there is to be any rebirth of our manufacturing sector?

Mr. Butcher

Our aim is and has always been to restore competitiveness to the British steel industry, irrespective of whether it is publicly or privately owned. There is no death wish on the part of the industry. If the hon. Gentleman examines figures for the past four months, he will find that sales have increased by 22 per cent. and that liquid steel output has increased by 50 per cent. Therefore, our negotiating position to achieve greater flexibility on quotas, and defending British interests as sturdily as my right hon. Friend has, is right.

Mr. Orme

Is not the most tragic loss that of 100,000 jobs in the British steel industry? If the EC does not reduce its capacity, what sanction will the Government take against it? Will the Minister stand up for Britain in defence of the industry?

Mr. Butcher

That is precisely what my right hon. Friend has been doing during meetings in the past two weeks. We defend British steel industry interests. His agreement to the interim quota arrangements depended on a commitment from the Commission that it would get the strongest assurances from our competitors in Europe that they also would reduce their capacity in line with the competitive requirements of the industry.

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