HC Deb 14 March 1983 vol 39 cc10-2
14. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he is likely to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss future investment in the industry.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

In less than an hour's time.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Secretary of State advise the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to use his commercial judgment and to press for an early authorisation for the Concast plant at the Llanwern steelworks, particularly as the works is breaking all records at present? That plant is vitally necessary to improve the finish of the product.

Mr. Jenkin

There is no proposal in the BSC corporate plan, which I am currently considering, for such a plant at Llanwern, but I shall certainly mention the hon. Gentleman's concern when I meet the chairman.

Mr. Michael Marshall

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Steel, will he take the opportunity to remind him of the advantages of privatisation in attracting capital and, indeed, in providing employee shareholding? Does he not agree that the BP pattern, which has been followed for Cable and Wireless, British Aerospace and the National Freight Corporation, goes a long way to depoliticise many of these great industries?

Mr. Jenkin

Mr. MacGregor must be one of the best private enterprise industrial managers in the world. He does not need convincing of the merits of the private enterprise system, not least after his experience over some years of trying to run a state corporation. He has had a tremendous success, but I am sure that he would recognise the enormous advantages of being answerable to the market and to shareholders rather than being accountable to Secretaries of State.

Mr. Orme

Is this the last meeting the Secretary of State will be having with the chairman of British Steel? We would all be very interested in the answer to that question. With regard to the corporate plan and to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), when are we likely to see the details of the plan?

Mr. Jenkin

As Mr. MacGregor's term does not finish until the end of June, I think that I shall have the pleasure of many more meetings with him before then.

I had hoped to be able to make a statement to the House about the corporate plan before Easter, but this now appears to be unlikely. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I wish to come to the House with my conclusions on the plan just as soon as I can.

Mr. Hal Miller

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise to Mr. MacGregor that the House might not be willing to grant further investment in British Steel until there has been some resolution of the demarcation between the public and the private sectors and until there is a sure basis of competition for the future?

Mr. Jenkin

I hope that my hon. Friend noticed the remarks that were made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when he spoke to the British Constructional Steel Work Association dinner last week about the proper delineation of the boundary between BSC and the private sector.

That is something that I should very much like to see and I have been discussing it both with the corporation and with BISPA. Progress has been much slower than I had hoped, but I have made it clear that I want to see very much faster progress in this area than has happened in the past.

Mr. James Hamilton

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. MacGregor, will he tell him that a great deal of gloom was cast over my constituency when it was made known this morning that 721 jobs on the tube-producing side will now be lost? Will he also tell Mr. MacGregor that the House will determine the future of Ravenscraig, not Mr. MacGregor?

Mr. Jenkin

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the redundancies in his constituency. They are the direct result of the end of the boom in the American oil exploration industry, of which I am sure he is well aware. The effect of the decision has meant that the number of workers in the plants in question will be just marginally below what they were before that oil investment boom took place. With regard to Ravenscraig, I have nothing to add to what I said in reply earlier to the question from the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray).

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

Reverting to that earlier question and to the answer the Secretary of State gave, may I ask whether, if he were to consent to a successful negotiation by MacGregor, he would regard that as consistent with what he said in December about the retention of Ravenscraig as an operating integrated plant?

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Member may know more about the details that Mr. MacGregor has in mind than I do. I have no firm proposal from Mr. MacGregor. The right hon. Gentleman's question is therefore hypothetical.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us on the Conservative Benches are great admirers of the work Mr. MacGregor is doing at British Steel? After reading the recent Select Committee report, does he accept that Mr. MacGregor would be better occupied in continuing the task that he has set upon instead of moving to pastures new?

Mr. Jenkin

That is not a question for me. I have greatly admired Mr. MacGregor's work. Not the least of his achievements at the British Steel Corporation is the fact that he will leave in place a management structure with people who are well able to carry on the excellent work of restoring the steel industry to profitability.