§ 13. Mr. Corbett
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has any plans to meet the chairman of British Steel to discuss the future of the steel industry.
§ Mr. Corbett
Will the Minister persuade his right hon. Friend to meet the chairman of British Steel to discuss the constructive alternatives being proposed by the work torte at Ravenscraig and Clydesdale? Is not it disgraceful that a man known as "Black Bob", because he has dug so many industrial graves, is refusing to meet the work force to discuss the future of the industry in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Leigh
Labour Members are always quick to talk down the management of British Steel. Perhaps we should consider the record of British Steel, which is now ma king a profit of £700 million a year, compared with an operating loss of £1.7 billion under the last Labour Government. It is not surprising that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), the shadow spokesman on trade and industry, said at the party conference that the British steel industry is now the most efficient in Europe.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I support the hon. Gentleman's plea for my right hon. Friend to meet the chairman of British Steel. Could he use the opportunity to persuade the chairman to offer the assets of British Steel in Scotland for sale to any interested party, as an integrated whole, before they are chipped away and destroyed under the current management of British Steel?
§ Mr. Leigh
My right hon. Friend will know that: my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that closure is a matter for the commercial judgment of the company concerned, and that remains the Government's position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland asked the Scottish Development Agency to consider the implications of the closure for the work force. I mentioned the visit of my noble Friend the Minister for Industry to Port Talbot, and British Steel's record in terms of profitability. As my noble Friend is a helpful sort of Minister, he asked them, "What can I do to help?" The management said quite clearly, "Keep out of our business."
§ Dr. Moonie
The Minister seems totally unconcerned that time is running out for the Scottish steel industry. Does he agree that the Government should step up the search for an overseas buyer for Clydesdale? Will he tell us exactly what Ministers have done to deal with the steel crisis in the six months since the strip mill closure was announced? Now that we have had a change of Prime Minister, is not it time for a change in steel policy—time for action rather than platitudes?
§ Mr. Leigh
The steel policy that has been maintained by the present Government for 10 years has resulted in a company which 10 years ago was making a loss of £1.7 billion now making a profit of £700 million a year. Why should Ministers such as I be better at picking winners and deciding how to operate British Steel than the directors who have been so successful in turning British Steel into a profitable company?