HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc334-5
10. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the prospects for British Steel.

Mr. Channon

The British Steel Corporation's recently announced half-year profit of £68 million was encouraging and represents further progress towards sustained profitability. The corporation is now in a much better position to meet the competitive challenges presented by the market.

Mr. Brown

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is excellent news? Do I understand from his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) a few moments ago that proposals will be brought before the House after the next election if Government Members retain the confidence of the people of this country in regard to the privatisation of the steel industry?

Mr. Channon

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I look forward to seeing him serve on the Standing Committee that deals with the Bill.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does the Secretary of State agree that the management and staff of the steel corporation deserve our congratulations on the success that they have had in recent times? Will it not impede further progress to have a great debate about the ownership of the corporation? Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important thing now is to wind down the Common Market structure of quotas and subsidies so that the steel corporation can compete for overseas markets on a fair basis?

Mr. Channon

In general, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said, and particularly with what he said in the first part of his supplementary question. It reflects the greatest credit on those employed by British Steel. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with that.

Mr. Warren

Following the last question, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking to hack down the quota system? Does it not hold back the ability of British Steel to get into export markets in Europe where other companies are not as efficient as British Steel?

Mr. Channon

I understand and have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. Our objective is the restoration of a free steel market. This can best be achieved gradually, without market disruption and with the support of all member states in the industry. That is certainly our aim. We have received one report and an analysis from the Commission. We shall receive more early next year.

Dr. Bray

Is there any commitment that the Government would or could give that a privatised steel industry would maintain steel production at the five integrated sites?

Mr. Channon

The position on the five integrated sites remains exactly as it has always been. An assurance has always been contained in the strategy up to 1988. The steel industry, like all other industries, is subject to risk. No Government would responsibly give an open-ended guarantee on the future of any works. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I stand by the assurances that have already been given.

Mr. Gow

Will my right hon. Friend improve on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and announce that he will introduce the steel denationalisation Bill in this Parliament and not in the next?

Mr. Channon

That rather depends on the date of the general election, which is not entirely within my gift. I note my hon. Friend's equal enthusiasm to play a detailed part in the denationalisation of steel, whenever it may come.