HC Deb 22 July 1987 vol 120 cc365-7
10. Dr. Bray

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the future of the steel industry in Scotland.

17. Mr. Millan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make it his policy that Ravenscraig steelworks will not be closed during the lifetime of the present Parliament.

Mr. Rifkind

The future of the steel industry in Scotland depends on the health of the British Steel Corporation. I am sure the House will share my delight at the healthy profits announced recently by the corporation.

Dr. Bray

Is the Secretary of State aware that Ravenscraig contributed substantially to those profits? Is he further aware that we are looking, not just for an extension of the short-term guarantee to Ravenscraig as an integrated steel producer, but for long-term investment in modernisation, new products and new processes to take Ravenscraig into the next century as a high-tech steel producer of both plate and strip?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Ravenscraig has contributed in a valuable and important way to the profitability of the British Steel Corporation, and I congratulate the management and work force of Ravenscraig, who have achieved records in both productivity and output. The hon. Gentleman knows that the British Steel Corporation has announced £30 million of varied investment in Ravenscraig. That demonstrates a commitment to the plant. I hope that it will help to ensure a very long and healthy future for the plant.

Mr. Millan

As the Secretary of State has just acknowledged that Ravenscraig is now a profitable plant, with record levels of output and the highest level of productivity of any steelworks in the United Kingdom, why cannot it be guaranteed a long-term future? Why should it have to live from hand to mouth, with only the guarantee of continued existence to August 1988? We want a long-term guarantee for Ravenscraig, with the long-term investment that is so necessary there.

Mr. Rifkind

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the next stage is for the British Steel Corporation to put forward its strategic plans for the future of the industry. I very much hope that when it puts its proposals before the Government the BSC will take into account the productivity and the output of Ravenscraig and the contribution that it has made to the profitability of BSC.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In any consideration that the Government give to the investment plans of the British Steel Corporation, will my right hon. and learned Friend undertake to ensure that British Steel is able to produce those quality products, for which there is a demand in Scotland, particularly from the offshore industry, to maximise the contribution of British industry to the offshore industry?

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I am sure the House will agree that the best guarantee for Ravenscraig and for the other plants in Scotland will be if they are able to produce the types of steel for which there is a demand and a market, thereby ensuring their relevance to the health and prosperity of the steel industry as a whole.

Dr. Reid

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to end once and for all the speculation regarding the future of Ravenscraig? Is he aware of the feelings of the people in Scotland? Unlike some of the synthetic Scots who are sitting on the Conservative Benches, is he not aware that Ravenscraig has become a political as well as an industrial symbol? Is he aware that there was further speculation this morning in The Times that a statement made by the Industry Commissioner in Europe may result in the closure of Ravenscraig? Congratulations to the workers at Ravenscraig are cheap. The Secretary of State should give them real commendation today by stating that their future is secure. He should give a guarantee today to a work force who have beaten every record in the book that the investment will be there so that their efforts are matched by his guarantees.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government have shown their commitment to Ravenscraig in an unmistakable way. Ravenscraig was kept as part of the British Steel Corporation's activities, even at a time when the British Steel Corporation was making enormous losses because of the failure of the Labour Government to approach the needs of a modern steel industry in an efficient and sensible manner. If the Government recognised the importance of Ravenscraig to the Scottish economy when the British Steel Corporation was making massive losses, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that Ravenscraig's position today must be infinitely healthier, since it is now part, thanks to this Government's policies, of a healthy and profitable steel industry.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Having heard from Ministers about the rosy picture in Scotland, I am almost tempted to return. With the co-operation of south Wales miners, British Coal is to produce coking coal. Will this not protect and ensure the long-term future of Ravenscraig?

Mr. Rifkind

We are naturally interested in any developments that will help to ensure that future.

Ultimately, the future of Ravenscraig, as of every steel plant in the United Kingdom, depends upon its productivity and output. Its output must consist of products for which there is a market both at home and abroad. That is the best guarantee, not only for Ravenscraig but for any factory or industry in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maxton

Has the Secretary of State received a copy of the EEC report which asks the steel industry to cut production by 30 million tonnes and to shed 80,000 jobs over the next three years? If he has received that report, what guarantee will he give to Ravenscraig that it will stay open? Will he ensure that that happens? Indeed, will he put his own job on the line and make it clear to the House that if British Steel closes Ravenscraig, he and his Ministers will resign?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman does not understand the degree of disservice that he does to Ravenscraig. By assuming, as he appears to be doing, that any necessary reduction in British Steel manpower has to be at the expense of Ravenscraig, he serves only to give comfort to those who argue that Ravenscraig is the weakest element of British Steel's activities. If he has Ravenscraig's interests at heart, he should emphasise the advantages that Ravenscraig offers for British Steel and its valuable contribution to British Steel's overall output. So far, his remarks have been positively damaging to the steel industry in Scotland.

Forward to