HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc887-98 3.30 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the imminent closure of the strip mill at Ravenscraig.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

British Steel announced this morning its intention to close the hot strip mill at its Ravenscraig steel works during the first half of 1991.

While this, of course, is a matter for the commercial judgment of the company, I must make it clear that I deplored the decision and its implications for the work force. I am also very disturbed by the potential implications of closing the hot strip mill for the future of Ravenscraig as a whole.

As yet, British Steel has not provided any details as to why it believes that the closure of the hot strip mill is necessary. I very much hope that it will do so, as those affected are entitled to the fullest possible information. The hot strip mill has been a valuable asset for the company over the past three years and we are not aware why it has ceased to be so.

I also very much hope that British Steel will take all its work force at Ravenscraig into its confidence as to the longer-term employment prospects.

The decision announced by British Steel is not due to come into effect until the first half of next year. There is still, therefore, opportunity for the company to reconsider its decision and see the hot strip mill as an asset rather than as a liability.

The Scottish Office, naturally, regrets any decision that has significant adverse employment implications. As we would with any other major employer in Scotland, we shall seek to persuade British Steel to reconsider its proposal in the interests both of the company and of its work force.

Mr. Dewar

The Secretary of State has said that he deplores today's events. Will he join me in condemning a brutal announcement in uncompromising terms? Surely it is not enough simply to say that those who are about to die should be fully informed about the facts. The question is what is the Secretary of State prepared to do to recover the situation.

Does he agree that there is a strong case for the retention of the Ravenscraig strip mill in view of the growth in the European market and North sea activity? Is it not foolhardy to assume that the demand for strip products can be met by retaining capacity at only two plants? Is it not a decision based on a defeatist view of British Steel's prospects? Is it not essential that British Steel thinks again?

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is great bitterness about the way in which the work force has been betrayed by the company, but also dismay over the inactivity and spineless approach of Ministers?

Finally, will the Secretary of State tell the House why he did not meet Sir Robert Scholey for seven long and weary months? Those were the missing weeks and the dead days when damaging decisions were being taken and the Secretary of State was nowhere to be seen. Does he remember the Question Time promises on 28 March that a meeting would take place in the relatively near future"—[Official Report, 28 March 1990; Vol. 170, c. 483.] and as recently as 2 May that it would be shortly, yet those meetings never took place? Was not the fate of Ravenscraig strip mill worth the effort?

The Secretary of State told the press this morning that the future of Ravenscraig was not crucial to the future of the Scottish economy. Does he remember his speech at the Tory party conference at Perth almost exactly a year ago when he boasted that Ravenscraig had what he was pleased to call a new lease of life? He said: In the private sector the strip mill is working flat out, its order book full, its workforce fully employed. What does the Secretary of State now say to the 770 people who are about to taste the misery of the dole queue and to the thousands of others who are frightened about their future? What consolation can they take from the Prime Minister's statement in a recent interview that she has a soft spot for the loyal work force at Ravenscraig?

I repeat the essential questions: will the Secretary of State give a guarantee that he is prepared to do everything he can to reverse this decision? Will he commit himself to fight now to stop closure being a threat to steel making at Ravenscraig when 1994 comes? Will he state plainly the steps that he intends to take to recover this disastrous situation?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the desirability of doing that which can be done to reverse the decision. I was interested that he emphasised what he believes are the strong commercial reasons for retaining the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig: the strength of the market for its products, the competitiveness of its work force and the superb way in which the work force has responded to the requests made of it. I agree with and endorse all that he said about that. I further agree that if there is a prospect of British Steel reconsidering the decision, the case must be put on commercial grounds and not on emotional or political grounds. I hope that all hon. Members agree with that.

The hon. Gentleman was correct to say that at various times in the House in the past few weeks the question of contact with British Steel has been raised. He will recall, if he wishes to consult Hansard, that that was with regard to new investment, and in particular regard to Dalzell and the plate mill. As I said at that time, the Government have presented to British Steel their own paper on the desirability of considering Dalzell for future plate investment. Far from delaying on these matters, they have been actively promoted in the past few months.

With regard to the relevance of Ravenscraig to the wider Scottish economy, I say to the hon. Gentleman what I have said on many previous occasions: I believe that the future of Ravenscraig is crucial to the economy of Lanarkshire because of the employment implications if it were ever to close. Of course it has significance and implications for the wider Scottish economy, but some 98 per cent. of Ravenscraig's products do not go to steel users in Scotland but are exported to customers elsewhere in the United Kingdom or overseas. The Scottish economy is infinitely stronger and more broadly based than 20 years ago, and it is sufficiently robust to deal with the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

I do not suggest that the future of Ravenscraig is other than of crucial importance to the economy of Lanarkshire. Clearly, an employer with thousands of employees in one part of Scotland has a particular role and responsibility in that respect.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

May I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that Conservative Members support the robust line that he is taking, and we are grateful for it? Will he press British Steel very strongly about the commercial justification for this decision? Speaking from experience when I dealt with it in relation to the offshore oil industry, I did not find it enterprising in taking advantage of the opportunities of our own country and of those offshore. Will he impress on it the need to take advantage, in the interests of Scotland, of the opportunities that are available?

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend is correct. It is possible to suggest that the penetration of the British steel market by imports has in part been caused not by British Steel's lack of competitiveness but by its lack of capacity. When future investment decisions about plate and Dalzell are being made, that will deserve to be an important consideration.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, far from being robust, his performance in the House is one of great weakness? He should have foreseen that this was coming when the privatisation of British Steel was first mooted and should have undertaken then to secure the future of an independent Scottish steel industry which would not have been closed by a management that has never disguised its hostility to Ravenscraig. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now give us some indication of the direct and positive action that he will secure to create an independent, viable, Scottish steel industry that will be competitive and secure for the long-term future?

Mr. Rifkind

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that, at the time of privatisation, British Steel gave a guarantee about the hot strip mill which expired only in 1989. Even under British Steel's current proposals, the hot strip mill will have continued in operation more than two years after British Steel's assurances have run out.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that British Steel announced in its prospectus at the time of flotation that it would be prepared to consider an alternative private sector purchaser for its assets if it had no continuing need for those assets in Scotand. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have drawn attention to the importance of that declaration, which may become increasingly important in the light of today's remarks.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that I am absolutely furious at British Steel's decision to stop one of the heartbeats of the Scottish economy? Does he accept that we owe it to a superb work force to do everything possible in the House and in the Government to keep the plant open? Has my right hon. and learned Friend heard whether any of the directors have resigned, in view of this disgraceful decision and the protests about it?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not have that information, but I happily endorse what my hon. Friend said about the quality of the work force. I have already had contact today with Mr. Brennan, leader of the shop stewards at Ravenscraig, and I look forward to meeting him and his colleagues in the near future.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Let there be no doubt: Ravenscraig will fight this decision, and it will be right to do so. The Opposition will fight alongside Ravenscraig. It appears from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's answers that he does not have the stomach for that fight.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that since October last year, despite pressure, he has not met the chairman of British Steel? Is that not a pathetic reflection on his attitude towards British Steel? Is it not a remarkable coincidence that the first time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman met the chairman was yesterday morning, to receive the news less than 24 hours after the closure of the Conservative party conference in Scotland? Why did he not listen when we warned during privatisation that British Steel planned privatisation in 1988, flotation in 1989, amputation of the hot strip mill in 1990 and closure thereafter?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explicitly confirm his remarks this morning, when he said: I do not believe that the future of Ravenscraig is crucial to the Scottish economy"? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman made that statement, it was one of appalling complacency. It makes him an accessory to this betrayal. He should either join us now in the fight or resign while he has a shred of intergrity left as Secretary of State.

Mr. Rifkind

My remarks this morning about the wider implications for the Scottish economy were identical to those that I made in the Scottish Grand Committee a year ago, and I stand by them entirely, for the reasons that I explained at that time. I repeat that I believe that the future of Ravenscraig is crucial to the Lanarkshire economy, for the reasons I gave. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to do a service to his constituents, rather than make political points he would be better advised to seek co-operation with all those on both sides of the House who would like British Steel to reconsider that decision. If the hon. Gentleman does not welcome that co-operation, he shows himself as being politically partisan and uninterested in the well-being of his constituents.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that the House has heard a great deal of rhetoric from the Opposition but not a single positive suggestion of a course of action other than that which he has rightly and properly announced to the House? Is it not deplorable that during this serious announcement several Scottish Labour Back Benchers were smiling and laughing? Will he further underline the importance of British Steel's obligation to offer Ravenscraig for sale if it has no further use for the plant? Does he agree that there is a danger that at some point in the future British Steel will make that decision but not make it public?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that, at the appropriate time, British Steel honours the commitment that it gave in the prospectus. I understand that it still maintains that it sees a value in its assets in Scotland. We must point out to it that the credibility of that assertion is not assisted— indeed, it is seriously damaged— by its current proposals for the hot strip mill.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that his pleas that people unite behind him in a campaign to save Ravenscraig ring hollow because of his distinct failure to address the issue, despite former pleas from Members on both sides of the House? Is it not the case that he failed to recognise the investment starvation of the Ravenscraig works headed by British Steel and that he made no attempt to have a meeting with Black Bob Scholey to discuss the matter at an appropriate time and ensure that the investment was made? Is he not presiding over the death of the steel industry in Scotland? Is not the only option left to the Scottish steel industry to become independent? The market and the skilled work force are there and the people of Ravenscraig and Dalzell are the people who will build that industry, not the Secretary of State.

Mr. Rifkind

The first part of the hon. Lady's question would carry more conviction if the shop stewards at Ravenscraig had not reacted with absolute fury to the partisan conduct of the SNP and if the shop stewards and trade unions had not dismissed the SNP as political posturers with no real commitment to the well-being of the industry.

On the latter part of the hon. Lady's remarks, the question whether there could be a free-standing steel industry in Scotland with alternative ownership depends in part on the attitude of British Steel and whether other persons or bodies in Scotland or overseas would be interested in such an acquisition if it were available.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the reason why British Steel has temporarily chosen to centre its works in Wales is that the Labour Government and the nationalised steel industry preferred to invest there? Is it not the case that they did so without the support of our party but with the support of the Scottish nationalists?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. and learned Friend is correct in his recollection of those matters.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Is not the figure that the Secretary of State gave—that Scottish industry used only 2 per cent.of the steel from Ravenscraig— a terrible indictment of the past 10 years' history of this Government? They have torn the heart out of heavy industry and manufacturing industry in Scotland. If he had any vision or intention of developing a manufacturing and heavy industry base in Scotland, he would recognise that we require the steel mill and more. As he has no stomach for the fight, will he keep it in mind that he should see himself not only as the Secretary of State of a Tory Government but as the spokesman for Scotland on this matter? He must work for Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I hope that he will be fair and will recollect that between 1974 and 1979 many thousands of steel jobs were lost. The Labour Government of the day accepted that that was commercially sensible and necessary. Indeed, it has been a feature of the steel industry under successive Governments of whatever political complexion that the battle to achieve competitiveness and commercial viability has led to that conclusion.

I endorse the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's latter remarks. If hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to have the maximum prospect of influencing British Steel, Scotland must speak with a single voice, and all those who have an interest in these matters must concentrate on sensible, commercial, mature arguments and resist the temptation to indulge in political back-biting which may give pleasure to their supporters but will be of little benefit to the well-being of the steel industry.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, because the European regulations prevent any form of Government aid, there is no question of the Government being able to pump public funds into this concern?

Does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that the productivity and work records of the work force and management at Ravenscraig merit them being told clearly what British Steel's investment programme is for the future of Ravenscraig, particularly slab production? Is it not also important that, if it does not give that information, British Steel should be instructed by all in politics in Scotland to get on with the job of offering the Scottish plants for sale, and then we shall see what commercial interests there are in carrying on productivity in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

It is indeed the case that the rules of the European Commission preclude any member Government of the European Community from giving financial aid to primary steel production. On my hon. Friend's latter remarks, I endorse the view that the work force at Ravenscraig, who have responded superbly to the requests of British Steel management in recent years, are entitled to the fullest information from British Steel, not only about the reasons for the decision announced this morning, but about British Steel's future intentions for its plant and the livelihood of its work force.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the announcement that he has made today is, to some extent—bearing in mind that it was a commercial decision—an indictment of the policy he has implemented in relation to the privatisation of the steel industry, where the Government have lost control of the situation? Would he further agree that he must not be too hard on the people of Ravenscraig if they are a bit emotional about their position? After all, their jobs and their ability to sustain their wives and families are on the line, and any hon. Member would be emotional about that. Does he realise that a spin-off from this will be a loss to British Rail, which depends on Ravenscraig for 40 per cent. of its freight? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is serious about the fight, let us hear what he proposes to do. The problem will not go away as easily as the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct to refer to the understandably strong feelings of those who work at Ravenscraig. However, I remind him that it was Mr. Tommy Brennan, the shop steward at Ravenscraig, who appealed for an end to political partisan in-fighting, and for all the Scottish political parties to co-operate in seeking to press on British Steel that there was a good commercial case for investment in Ravenscraig and British Steel should have confidence in its future.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

All of us with British Steel works in our constituencies are concerned at British Steel's announcement today. While I applaud my right hon. and learned Friend's attitude, may I remind him that Corby steel works was closed down and today that town has over-employment, that Teesside has suffered its share of job losses, but today it is booming, and that only last week Consett announced a new and exciting venture and industrial park that will use integrated alternative energies and bring 1,300 jobs to that part of the world in the near future? Should not we stop looking backwards and start looking forwards?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct to emphasise that, while the steel corporation was under public sector ownership, there were massive job losses in Consett, Corby and Shotton, under successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative. He is also quite correct to emphasise that the only real contribution that we can make to the well-being of the work force in the steel industry, whether in Ravenscraig or elsewhere, is to look to the future and put a commercial case showing why there should be investment and confidence in a particular steel plant.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is the Secretary of State aware that Members from steel constituencies such as mine will regard his statement today as pathetic and humiliating? Does he accept that neither he nor his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is in a position to fight for Ravenscraig, given their posture during the closure of Gartcosh, which is where the story began? Will he further agree that his failure to defend the Scottish steel industry, in the light of the European straitjacket, of the lack of investment and of the experience in the North sea, where 41 per cent. of tubes and pipes used came from overseas, hardly qualifies him to fight for what is left of this industry? In view of the devastation that this announcement has heaped on my constituents and on the people of Lanarkshire in general, will he and the hon. Member for Stirling put their jobs on the line in the same tragic way as these people have done today?

Mr. Rifkind

I would have more time for the hon. Gentleman's remarks if he had referred to the major job losses in the steel industry during the period of the Labour Government of which he was such a conspicuous admirer. We all know that there have been major rationalisations in steel employment. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect to carry authority if he thinks that massive job losses under a Labour Government are acceptable but that, when they happen subsequently, they are to be condemned. He would do a service to his constituents if he concentrated on ways in which we can encourage British Steel to reconsider its position instead of indulging in the rather emotional hype that we have just heard.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

Does the Secretary of State agree that this whole discussion shows how wise we were to privatise British Steel so that the additional investment is made in Wales and elsewhere according to the requirements of the market, and so that we get away from doing what the Labour Government did, which was to refuse to implement the closure of the Beswick plants, which led to tragic losses both of subsidy and of jobs and to the closure of steel firms in the west midlands?

Mr. Rifkind

I very much agree. My hon. Friend has rightly identified the proper approach.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

In the last few years the Secretary of State has been telling us that the Scottish economy is in good shape and on course to grow even stronger in the 1990s. How does he square that with today's closure and the loss of 800 jobs, or with the sustained withdrawal of investment from Scottish steel and the slow strangulation of the Scottish steel industry? Does he not recognise that an economy without the steel industry is like a car without an engine— it is going nowhere, which is precisely where he and his party are going unless they act to reverse this catastrophic decision?

Mr. Rifkind

The remarks that I made at new year have been more than vindicated by events since then. There have been continuing significant falls in unemployment; there have been massive new inward investment decisions which have been welcomed throughout Scotland; and the Scottish economy is now doing better than that of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Does not a due sense of humility oblige my right hon. and learned Friend not to seek to substitute his own commercial judgment for that of British Steel?

Mr. Rifkind

That is a perfectly fair observation, but what I have said is not quite what my hon. Friend implies. I have said that if British Steel believes that there are good commercial reasons for reversing the view that it has taken over the past three years, its work force, who have responded splendidly to encouragement to increase productivity and competitiveness, are entitled to know what British Steel's commercial considerations are. So far that information has not been forthcoming.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel a sense of paradox in that the work force at this plant have been the subject of praise from him and others yet they now find themselves completely frustrated and unable to do anything but accept a decision made elsewhere? If he was only told about this yesterday, was not that an insult to his office, to the people who work in the plant and to the people of Scotland? If he was told yesterday, why did he not tell the House before?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. and learned Gentleman is talking nonsense, and he knows it. British Steel is a private company. I understand that the matter was put to the board on Monday, and as board members themselves were asked to authorise the proposal only on Monday I do not think that I or anyone else can complain about being informed on Tuesday.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Is it not the case that the health of the steel industry as a whole depends on management and not politicians making decisions of this sort? The sad truth is that there was never any economic justification for building the strip mill at Ravenscraig. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the attitude of Opposition Members shows that their conversion to the market is wafer-thin? They are in favour of the market only in so far as it makes life easy for them. When it comes to the difficult decisions, they are always more than ready to jettison the market.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right. Only investment that has a commercial rationale is likely to stand the test of time. No one is doing any service to any part of the United Kingdom by wishing to maintain economic activity which requires massive subsidy and does not have an economic rationale.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

The Secretary of State is wrong to say that the closure affects only the economy of Lanarkshire, because the economy of my constituency and every other part of Scotland is affected by this tragic decision. I hope that he will bear that in mind. Given the problems of the Scottish economy and the fact that steel is a major part of it, it is strange that the Secretary of State has not met Bob Scholey. Will he tell us the reason for that? Only a few years ago an all-party Select Committee made an excellent case for Ravenscraig staying open. Perhaps the Secretary of State should refer to that report.

Mr. Rifkind

Of course I accept that there are implications for other constituencies arising from the decision about Ravenscraig. I in no way depart from my central propositon about the crucial importance of Ravenscraig to the economy of Lanarkshire; that is self evident.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about meetings with Sir Robert Scholey. I do not regularly meet the chairmen of major private companies in Scotland. I have meetings when they are required for a specific purpose. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that over the past few weeks the main interest of the House has been in the future of Dalzell and future plate mill investment. Some weeks ago we submitted a lengthy paper to British Steel arguing the commercial case for Dalzell being the favoured location for investment in plate. British Steel is currently considering that paper and it will be necessary to have discussions with the company on its analysis of that.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that British Steel has been extremely successful during a period of reduction in the steel market throughout the European Community while we had steel quotas? Is he satisfied that Government subsidies to the Italian and other steel industies have left us with a level playing field? Are subsidies by other Euro Governments to their steel industries causing additional problems for the steel industry in Britain and especially in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

I certainly acknowledge the importance of my hon. Friend's point, which is primarily for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My hon. Friend is correct when he says that British Steel has been very successful in winning new markets in Europe. It is precisely for that reason that Ravenscraig and especially the hot strip mill have been so fully utilised in the past three years. That is precisely why it has proved wise for British Steel to continue to use this valuable asset.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the squalid excuses that he has given constitute the weakest ever performance at the Dispatch Box? Will he explain to the Scottish people why, when we have an enormous market building up in the North sea, Scottish steel has been run down? Why has he failed to meet the chairman of British Steel, and why is he not putting his job on the line to defend the Scottish steel industry?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman would sound slightly more convincing if he would explain to the shop stewards at Ravenscraig why his view on the steel industry should he supported when every senior trade union spokesman in Scotland has dismissed SNP policy as positively harmful to the interests of his industry.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)


Mr. Speaker

Order. Was the hon. Gentleman here for the statement?

Mr. Smith


Mr. Speaker

In that case, I can call him.

Mr. Smith

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, between 1975 and 1980, £3.3 billion worth of taxpayers' money was invested in British Steel, and that in the next five years the figure was £4.5 billion, but that during that period thousands of jobs were lost? Since then the British steel industry has been transformed and privatised. Is not one of the principal advantages of privatisation that management can now manage without political interference? Would it not be a grave mistake to go back on such a system?

Mr. Rifkind

If my hon. Friend is saying that it would be a grave mistake for political considerations to determine investment by British Steel or any other company, I entirely agree with him. It is important that the commercial arguments that may be used to justify a major closure should be fully examined. If British Steel is confident that it is justified in its commercial interpretation of the situation, there should be no reluctance on its part to discuss its reasons with its work force, which is most affected by the decision.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Has the Secretary of State no shame in coming to the House to call for a bipartisan approach to saving Ravenscraig when he and his colleagues spent two or three days in Aberdeen in an orgy of self-indulgence and eulogy on the Tory party and the free market? How can he call for a bipartisan approach when he has resisted such an approach to investment? Is the Department of Trade and Industry backing his approach to saving Ravenscraig?

Mr. Rifkind

The approach that I have suggested might be helpful to the interests of Ravenscraig is the approach called for by the shop stewards, and the one that the Standing Commission for the defence of the Scottish steel industry said would be in the interests of Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously interested in assisting the prospects for Ravenscraig, he must ask himself whether the kind of politically partisan remarks that he has made will help or harm the objectives which he says he desires.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Some weeks ago, I asked a question about the Scottish steel industry and the support that should come from the Government for the magnificent work being done by that industry in Scotland. The Minister for Industry accused me of leading with my double chin. Let us see leadership from the Secretary of State to ensure that we save the steel industry in Scotland. If he is unsuccessful, not only he but every Scottish Office Minister should resign.

Mr. Rifkind

I was waiting to hear whether the hon. Gentleman was offering to resign the representation of his constituency if he were unsuccessful in maintaining employment in a company in his constituency. I did not catch him making that offer.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that this will not be seen as a commercial issue in Scotland because, even if it were in the commercial interests of British Steel to close the plant, it would not be acceptable to the Scottish people? People recognise that the steel industry is crucial to the long-term industrial future of Scotland. Is he not aware that it is all very well to have these reports of how the Conservative party in Scotland and Scottish Office Ministers will be leading a campaign against closure, but his Government presided over the decimation of the market for steel products in Scotland with the closure of the plants at Bathgate and Linwood and elsewhere and the rundown in the shipbuilding and engineering industries. His Government have paved the way to this decision, through privatisation. They should use the powers they took to privatise the industry to secure its future in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

By his intervention, all that the hon. Member has proven is that he is good at making political points but not much use to the steel workers in Ravenscraig.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

I remind the Secretary of State of the informed view of Ian MacGregor, who said that a minimum of five steel plants was essential for the British steel industry. How can he say that today's announcement conforms with that informed view of the former chairman of British Steel? How is today's announcement of a partial closure at Ravenscraig compatible with the announcement by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), that, should Ravenscraig be threatened with closure, another buyer could be found? How can closure take place in such circumstances?

Mr. Rifkind

I am interested in the reported remarks of Sir Ian MacGregor, who clearly carries a great deal of authority on steel matters. It would be helpful if his views were seriously considered. British Steel—it was not only my right hon. and learned Friend—gave a commitment in its prospectus to make its assets available to an alternative purchaser if it had no further use for them.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that British Steel's announcement is of considerable relevance to the steel industry in Wales? I appreciate the success of both Llanwern and Port Talbot in recent years, but does not the announcement mean a general scaling down of the steel industry as a whole, which could have a highly detrimental effect on the British economy?

Following the Budget, the Secretary of State mounted a successful rescue operation for the poll tax in Scotland. Will he do the same for Ravenscraig, or will he resign his high office?

Mr. Rifkind

I must leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to comment on the implications of today's announcement for the Welsh economy. I believe that there is an opportunity for mature Scottish opinion to make its voice heard and to put forward a serious and sober case setting out why British Steel should reconsider on commercial grounds the decision that it is proposing to implement at Ravenscraig.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Is the Secretary of State aware that Opposition Members are angry? To be honest, however, we are not surprised. When the Government were pushing the privatisation of the steel industry through the House, we in Scotland told them that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was washing his hands of the Scottish steel industry. Easter is past, but we still have a Pontius Pilate at the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) called upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman to resign; Opposition Members call upon him to resign. Indeed, the whole of Scotland will want his head if he lets British Steel pull out of Ravenscraig.

Mr. Rifkind

When a Labour Government preside over massive reductions in employment in the steel industry, Labour Members seem to find that acceptable and commercially necessary. They apply different criteria when they think that it is in their political interests to do so. The hon. Gentleman may impress himself, but not his constituents.