HC Deb 06 June 1984 vol 61 cc303-4
8. Mr. Hirst

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has received the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Tebbit

I expect BSC to complete its corporate plan shortly and to submit it to the Government for approval.

Mr. Hirst

When my right hon. Friend receives the corporate plan, will he bear in mind that the United Kingdom has reduced its steel-making capacity very much more than have our partners in the European Community? Will he make the most vigorous representations to his counterparts in the Community in order to ensure greater equality of sacrifice? Will he bear in mind that my constituents in the west of Scotland warmly endorse the conclusion of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which suggested that in view of the market position there was no valid case for the closure of Ravenscraig steelworks?

Mr. Tebbit

When we consider BSC's corporate plan we shall, of course, look at the position of the market and the various parts of the BSC, and how all the plants may be fitted into the plan. On the question of the amount by which capacity has been cut, Commissioner Andriessen said recently that he expected about 30 million tonnes of capacity to be taken out between 1980 and 1985. Our contribution will be about 4.5 million tonnes, of which we have already taken out four million. The other countries will catch up on what we had to do in cutting capacity, which should, in many cases, have been closed down many years before—and would have been but for the disgraceful delays caused by the Beswick review.

Mr. Crowther

Has the Secretary of State read the Select Committee report to which his hon. Friend referred? Is he aware that the Select Committee strongly urged that there should be no further closures in strip mill capacity, strongly criticised the Government's privatisation policy and drew attention to the amazingly high current level of productivity in this publicly owned industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a full debate on this matter in Government time before any irrevocable decision is made on further closures?

Mr. Tebbit

I shall make sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the hon. Gentleman's views about the need for a debate.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in paying tribute to the way in which the work force as a result of the inspired leadership of Mr. MacGregor has now achieved a remarkably high output per man. The United Kingdom figure is 223 tonnes per man year as compared with 212 tonnes in Germany and 190 in France. I have read the Select Committee report with great interest, but the Select Committee is not responsible for the financing of BSC.

Mr. Hickmet

In as much as BSC's corporate plan is designed to set BSC on course for profitability and thereby secure future job security for our steel workers, may I ask how much has that aim been undermined by the activities of Mr. Scargill—activities which are supported by every Member of the Labour party? Has not the future of the five integrated steel plants been thrown into question far more by the actions of Mr. Scargill than by any other cause? If Mr. Scargill was successful at Orgreave, and if the blast furnaces and coke ovens at Scunthorpe were damaged, what would be the future for the 5,000 or 6,000 steel workers in my constituency? Would it not be nil?

Mr. Tebbit

Assuredly, the future of jobs in BSC can be secured only by rendering that corporation profitable. My hon. Friend refers to the damage done by the current miners' dispute. I understand that some three quarters of the miners are not currently working, although about a quarter, happily, are still producing coal, which is being transported to the steelworks by many other responsible trade unionists. There is little doubt that the objective at times of some extremists has been to damage the British steel industry. A few years ago some extremists in the steelworks had the same objective, but they learnt their lesson.

Mr. Ewing

The Secretary of State is considering more corporate plans than Bobby Robson, and is making almost as bad a job of them all. Will he guarantee that he will not accept any proposal that will further reduce the capacity of BSC or lead to the closure of any one of the five integrated steel plants, and that he will not fuel any arguments between the various parts of the industry such as Port Talbot, Ravenscraig and Llanwern?

Mr. Tebbit

It would be rather unwise of me to make decisions on the corporate plan before I have had the opportunity to see it. I have to stand very firm on the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, when he said: The Government have said that there can be no question of accepting a situation where the taxpayer is required to foot the bill for continual and avoidable loss-making." — [Official Report, 24 March 1975; Vol. 889, c. 226.] That was said by the Under-Secretary of State for Industry about British Leyland, but it is equally applicable to BSC, and it is equally applicable although the then Under-Secretary of State for Industry, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), would no doubt wish to recant those views.