HC Deb 21 May 1990 vol 173 cc24-75
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I repeat what I said a moment ago, that there is great demand to participate in the debate. Although it is not possible for me to put a limit on speeches because this is a half-day debate, if hon. Members limit their speeches to 10 minutes, many will stand a good chance of being called.

3.39 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the decision by British Steel to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig with major job losses; recognises that the hot strip mill and a major new investment programme for Ravenscraig are essential to ensure a viable future for the Scottish steel industry; calls upon British Steel to reverse its catastrophic decision; and urges Her Majesty's Government at every level to unite in opposing British Steel's decision and to do everything possible to reverse a closure which threatens the future of the steel industry in Scotland. I do not need to spend much time convincing the House of the importance of the issue and of the significance of Ravenscraig to the Scottish economy. It is easy to draw unpleasant conclusions and predict dire consequences of the recent developments and the announced closure of the strip mill. We on this side try to avoid the doomsday argument and try not to proclaim daily that the end is nigh. Too many people in Scottish politics see disasters as a political opportunity privately to be welcomed, even if publicly deplored.

Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a question mark and genuine anxiety not just about the 770 jobs whose loss is immediately threatened, but about the whole future of the Ravenscraig plant. If, at the end of 1994, it is producing steel and slab alone, incomplete and vulnerable, clearly problems will arise. That fact is bluntly recognised in the press release of 16 May issued by British Steel, which made the announcement about the strip mill: The impact of the continuous casting investments at Port Talbot and Llanwern will, in due course, also affect steel production at Ravenscraig so that production of steel at that works beyond 1994 will be dependent upon the economic and commercial scene and the demand for steel slabs. In the context of what has happened, that is less than a ringing commitment to the future of the Scottish steel industry.

Certainly everyone in Scottish politics will be uncomfortably aware that the Arthur Young report, which was produced in February 1988, set out what it saw as a possible scenario, leading the total dismantlement of the Scottish steel industry. So far, it is unpleasantly and uncannily on course to become reality.

Other important plants in Scotland—Clydesdale and Dalzell—have their problems and will undoubtedly be the subject of debate on another occasion. The House, and certainly the men who work at Clydesdale and Dalzell, will forgive me and will understand if I focus on Ravenscraig's future.

The mood of Scotland is undoubtedly that we should unite to fight the possible closure and the immediate threat to the strip mill. I have no wish to make an abrasive speech. Like everyone else in Scotland, I seek co-operation and the widest possible coalition from which we can attempt a counter-attack on this issue. However, the Secretary of State would not expect me to fail to record my disagreement and, indeed, dismay at the way in which the matter has been handled until now. We are paying the price for the Government's hands-off attitude, for their insistence that this is a matter simply for the commercial judgment of British Steel and for giving the impression that they have no particular remit or responsibility for the matter. All too often Ministers have looked like passive spectators.

On Wednesday there were supplementary questions on the private notice question from the hon. Members for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim), who is in his place, for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller), who I am glad to see has come to listen to the debate, and for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I should like to suggest that they in their enthusiasms were fringe figures and that in suggesting that Government involvement in the future of Ravenscraig was improper, they were ploughing a lonely course. The trouble is that they seem to reflect the views of the Department of Trade and Industry all too accurately. That is one of our problems.

For a long time it has been clear that British Steel has a less than full commitment to its Scottish operations. If we are to avoid the disaster that the Arthur Young report predicts, there must be a sustained and urgent effort. My charge against the Secretary of State for what happened in the past is that there is no evidence that that effort was made.

I met the right hon. and learned Gentleman in December 1989—I remember the conversation well—when a number of colleagues and I expressed our keen alarm about what was happening to the three major steel-making centres in Scottish industry. There were also a number of occasions when the Secretary of State was pressed again during Scottish Question Time—I rehearsed that during the questions following the private notice question—and he told us that he would meet the chairman of British Steel in the relatively near future or shortly. Unfortunately, on 2 May the term "shortly" had a particularly sinister significance, because the Secretary of State was summoned for the wrong reasons—to be given, in effect, formal intimation of execution.

Press speculation—the Secretary of State will know of the article that appeared in The Observer—has suggested that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew well what was going on. That article stated: Inquiries by The Observer reveal that far from learning for the first time last Tuesday of plans to close the plant, Rifkind and the Scottish Office had been fully appraised of British Steel's intentions as they developed. The Secretary of State has strongly and hotly denied that, and I am very happy to accept his assurances on that point. However, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that, if he did not know, he should have done, and that if he had asked, he might well have been told.

The long period of inaction that led up to last week's meeting with Sir Robert Scholey left British Steel unhindered in its plans to put in place an unsound strategy, which had disastrous consequences for our cause. I believe that the Secretary of State posted himself missing from the field of action during that time.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Although accepting the Secretary of State's assurances, does the hon. Gentleman find it extraordinary that, given that the chairman of British Steel had made it clear two years ago that, eventually, he wanted to close the hot strip mill and that, in the past few months, he refused to meet either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State, the Secretary of State did not wonder whether something was up? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is rather amazing that it came as such a surprise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the end of the day?

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman has given a summary of my remarks and I agree with him.

The tragedy upon which we must concentrate is the fact that it will not be easy now to divert British Steel from its chosen course. Privatisation has weakened the public interest that can be brought to bear and the leverage that could be exercised. The prospects for altering the decision would have been infinitely better if those chances had been taken before that decision was publicly announced. The Secretary of State must bear some responsibility for that. I welcome the fact, however, that the Secretary of State had been converted by circumstance to a more positive attitude in the past 10 days. He has made clear his concern and the fact that he wishes to see the decision reversed. I understand that he had a positive meeting with the stewards from Ravenscraig this morning and that they took some encouragement from what he had to say. I would be unhelpful and churlish if I did not welcome that.

The debate will give us the chance to clarify not only the Secretary of State's position, but that of the Government. It is extremely important that that opportunity is taken. The Secretary of State has used words such as "deplore", and said that he is "disturbed". He has stated that the Scottish Office seek to persuade British Steel".—[Official Report, 16 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 887.] That is all right as far as it goes, but Scotland will demand something a little more positive and energetic than is suggested by those words. If we are to have any chance of success in our task, we cannot go at it by way of apology, afterthought or on a "sorry-to-bother you" basis. That will not impress Sir Robert Scholey and Mr. Llowarc of British Steel. We cannot have a Secretary of State who speaks in constrained language and leaves the impression, at least with some of us, that, while he is certainly trying to satisfy Scottish opinion, he is also keen not to sacrifice the good opinion of colleagues who may not agree with him.

There has been an attempt at various times to downgrade the issue. It has been suggested that the future of Ravenscraig is of importance to Lanarkshire, but not to the Scottish economy as a whole. I have been told by journalists of the words used by the Secretary of State at a press briefing—I hope that I have got the words accurate—when he said that the job loss was not dramatic in itself although disappointing to those affected". It seems that the Secretary of State is trying to put a pedestrian cloak over an industrial crisis of sharp proportions, which also involves a number of personal tragedies. What we seek from the Secretary of State today is a definition of where he stands and, more importantly, what he intends to do. We are looking for a commitment by the Government as a whole that goes well beyond simply polite and cursory inquiries at British Steel headquarters.

My second point to the Secretary of State—I hope that he will be able to help me—is that he needs allies in every part of his party, the Government and the country. If he knocks on the door of Sir Robert Scholey, he may well be seen as a predictable visitor—a dutiful nod to Scottish opinion—and discounted as such. If representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry or the Prime Minister were to come and argue the case, say that Ravenscraig was something of central importance to the Scottish economy and there should be reconsideration, that would shake British Steel's complacency, and be a central part of the campaign.

We have been told be the Secretary of State that his Cabinet colleagues are in total agreement with his line. Indeed, the vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative party, at a meeting of the steel core group in Strathclyde region on Saturday, said that there was total agreement among Cabinet colleagues. I hope that that is true, and welcome it because I recognise that in Scotland there is an almost united opinion.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who is just leaving the Chamber, was quoted as saying: The future direction of the campaign should be to persuade British Steel to invest in Scotland and to take advantage of the magnificent workforce. I agree with that and think that almost everyone in Scotland would do so. I hope the fact that the words came from the hon. Member for Stirling may reassure some of the Government's Back Benchers that my position is not ideologically unsound, on that issue.

We need evidence of positive support beyond the Secretary of State for Scotland. If hon. Members remember what the Leader of the House said last Thursday and the previously expressed views of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, they will understand why there is a great deal of doubt about whether that support is forthcoming in Scotland and I suspect, possibly just as importantly, in British Steel headquarters.

I hope that the Secretary of State will not think that I am making a cheap point—it is not meant to be—but I cannot help thinking that it is of some significance that there is no Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry in the Chamber to listen to this debate. At best, that is discourteous and I fear that it may confirm the political signifiance of the split that I believe exists. I hope that my fear can be laid to rest by the Secretary of State.

I want the Secretary of State to be successful in this matter, but he needs the help and support of his colleagues. He must not approach the task as someone who has been given a licence to argue a case because of his special difficulties, while the Government's general line remains unsympathetic. That would be a recipe for a cosmetic exercise bound to failure.

I shall briefly outline the reasons why the Government should be involved. I do not think that British Steel is just another private sector company, as has been again and again suggested by Conservative Members. Ministers hold a golden share. I appreciate that they say it is for limited purposes, but it exists and they do not normally hold golden shares in just another private sector company. They are responsible for the guarantees that have been given. Those guarantees, particularly on the issue of the possible sale of assets in Scotland, require considerable clarification.

I have looked carefully at the statement made by the present Minister for Health, then Minister with responsibility for industry, in the House, and it is not clear whether that guarantee applies only to a closure at the end of 1994 or would apply after 1994. Having discussed such matters more recently than many other people with British Steel, I suspect that there may be potential for a dispute about what that undertaking is worth. That should be clarified.

The golden share and guarantees are evidence that we are considering a sensitive issue with widespread economic importance. It is not a routine, undramatic loss of another 770 jobs, even with all the pain and bitterness that that would produce. It will have a knock-on effect on all the steel industry in Scotland and the Scottish economy as a whole. Sir Robert Scholey, with his narrow and no doubt legally justified point of view as chairman of British Steel, may want to shrug off some of those effects, but the Government cannot.

I am told today by ScotRail that 50 per cent. of the revenue of British Rail freight in Scotland is produced by Ravenscraig. There will be a substantial impact on the brave new world of privatised electricity of Scottish Power if it loses what I suspect is the biggest customer in its portfolio. I know that the new private company which is to replace the Clyde port authority in a few months, if the private legislation gets through the House with the continuing support of the Government, will depend heavily for income on the landing dues at Hunterston, the loss of which will knock a massive hole in its financial position. I mention all these because they are examples of the wider public interest which have clearly not been taken into the reckoning by British Steel when reaching its decision but which should be dealt with by the Government.

Everyone who has followed the debate will understand what I mean when I say that national press reaction to what has happened in Scotland has been particularly unfortunate. The dismay with which the news has been greeted in Scotland has met with some derision in the press. The decision to close the strip mill has been seen as a virtuous exercise in commercial realism.

That point of view has been put in trenchant terms by the Financial Times and The Independent, and in offensive terms by the Evening Standard, which some hon. Members will know as London's local evening paper. Ravenscraig must close", it tells us. Perhaps I can give a flavour of the article: The Scots, who have become subsidy junkies as successive Governments … have tried to bribe them with ever larger handouts at the expense of the comparatively little-subsidised English taxpayer, will no doubt wail like a trampled bagpipe at the removal of British Steel's financial support for Ravenscraig. That is in no way a useful contribution to the debate.

By way of a corrective, I made some inquiries in the Library which referred me to an interesting debate in the House in which a Transport Minister pointed out that subsidy for transport in south-east England will rise from this year's £387 million, in constant terms, to £669 million in 1992; and that the underground in London will get £2.2 billion investment over the next three years. I make no complaint about that; I accept that it is necessary. I make the point only by way of a corrective against those who call our legitimate anxieties the tortured wail of a bagpipe. It might be of interest to some hon. Members to know that the Scottish Office budget for industry, energy, trade and employment this year is £251 million. That begins to show why we do not sympathise with some of the harsh and crude language, bordering on the insulting, which has entered the debate.

I warn the House that it is a comforting theory to say that there is no need to look at the merits of a closure of this sort—that management has decreed and management must always be right. But in this case the management has got it wrong. There was a letter in The Scotsman today from Cardinal Gordan Gray, a much respected leader of the Roman Catholic community in Scotland. He described himself as appalled by what has happened, and protested that there was no morality in the market place. I recognise that that is a controversial view, but I stress that one does not need to agree with the cardinal on that point to agree with those of us who argue that it would be tragic and deeply wrong to close the strip mill at Ravenscraig.

This is not a smokestack industry to be decently buried; it is not a lame duck industry producing an unwanted product at an unacceptable price. We have it on the authority of the Prime Minister herself that the work force have done well—they produce steel at 2.33 man hours per tonne, which is as low as any plant in Europe. The workers are not going because they are inefficient or because they are loss-making. I cannot quote figures on that, but I believe that it is true. They are going because British Steel has made an assumption that the capacity is not needed and it can cut it because the market will remain depressed. That assumption can and should be challenged.

Strip production in British Steel at the moment is about 5.5 million tonnes. Strip capacity at the two Welsh plants will be about 6 million tonnes. We must bear in mind the fact that the number of car units to be produced in this country will rise from 1.2 million to 2 million with the arrival of Japanese firms; we must remember the increase in North sea activity; the prediction that the European market over the next four or five years will grow by 1 per cent. a year; and the fact that we have a substantial direct deficit in steel trade with the rest of Europe, and with Germany in particular. So is it right to cut our capacity calculations so neat and assume that we cannot put any of these things right and pick up an increasing share of our own market?

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the expansion of the British car industry to 2 million car units per year. I accept that that is a realistic target for the end of this decade. Why did Scotland not want to be part of that development? Its work force rejected the setting up of the Ford factory in Dundee. Many of us would be more sympathetic to the Scottish cause if it did not turn its back on such high-tech industries.

Mr. Dewar

I shall answer that petty point with a rather more serious one. The hon. Gentleman should address himself to the question why, when there is to be a big increase in demand for steel for the car industry, British Steel assumes it will not supply that demand. That is the case for the survival of Ravenscraig.

My last point is rather unusual, because I shall conclude by looking at the motion and the Government amendment. This debate is not an end in itself. It should not be seen as an empty political exercise, which is how some of our debates are seen. I have concentrated on government and the parliamentary campaign, but every section of Scottish life, including, to be fair, the Scottish Conservative party, is anxious to contribute to the fight to save the strip mill at Ravenscraig. The work force, under the leadership of the shop steward, Tommy Brennan, and his colleagues, has led by example and deserves better than this announcement.

I shall conclude by speaking about the role of Government. I am depressed by the Government amendment because it will undermine confidence in the Secretary of State's good intentions and commitments and his readiness to go into battle on behalf of the plant. The Government amendment says that this is a matter for "commercial judgment". It certainly expresses concern about the job losses that would follow the closure of the strip mill. However, the only thing it does in terms of action is to invite British Steel to explain and defend its decision. It does not commit the Government to anything and does not promise any action. There is no hint of ministerial pressure or of the Department of Trade and Industry getting its hands dirty in a good cause.

In reply to a private notice question tabled by me, the Secretary of State for Scotland said: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the desirability of doing that which can be done to reverse the decision."—[Official Report, 16 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 888.] The key question that we want answered by the Secretary of State is, what can be done? He spoke about that which can be done". Does that amount simply to inviting British Steel to explain and defend its decisions? If that is the strength of the Government's involvement and of Ministers' imagination and commitment, it will not do.

It is quite disgraceful that the shop stewards were given the news by the local director and have had absolutely no access to top management. They have not seen Jake Stewart, the head of the strip division, or anyone else of similar seniority. That should be put right. What could be more tentative than merely to invite British Steel to defend its decision? We are looking for positive evidence of Government action in support of the campaign. The Government's response will be seen as totally inadequate in Scotland, and the House should recognise it.

When we tackle British Steel, we want to know that the Government are fighting our corner. I say unashamedly that, if the Secretary of State wants to put himself at the head of that campaign, we will give him every conceivable support and will be grateful for that sign of initiative and energy. If he does not do that, it will mean that the Government propose to do nothing apart from saying to the work force of the strip mill in Ravenscraig, "Perhaps you would like to explain why you are about to be executed." When that little exercise has been carried out, that will be the end of the Government's involvement. That will not do, and it will be seen not to do.

Our motion calls for reversal of the decision to close, asks British Steel to think again, and asks the Government "at every level" to join the struggle to save the plant and to do everything possible to reverse the decision. The first part of that motion is not original. It is almost exactly the substance of an early-day motion signed last week by all Tory Back-Bench Members representing Scottish constituencies. The second part spells out the essential minimum and a Government commitment in which I understand the Secretary of State believes. It outlines what Scotland expects.

I know that it would be extremely difficult for the Government to do this, but I ask them not to oppose our motion and not to insist on their amendment. There is no heresy, there is nothing unacceptable or out of line with what the Secretary of State has represented as his position, at least in Scotland, in our motion. If the Secretary of State will not accept our motion, I urge him to spell out why he will not do so. If he did, it would unite Scotland and create the kind of platform from which we could mount a campaign which had a genuine hope of reversing the decision and saving the plant.

4.5 pm

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

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'recognises that British Steel's investment and operational decisions are a matter for the commercial judgment of the company; nevertheless expresses its concern about the potential employment consequences of the company's decision to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig; recognises the considerable productivity achievements of the Ravenscraig workforce; invites British Steel to explain and defend its decision; and deplores any attempt to extract political capital from this event rather than offering any constructive solutions.'. I listened with care to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). Despite all the fine rhetoric, the House waited in vain to hear exactly what he would have done in these circumstances if he were in my position. I am aware that we are in government, but the House and the people of Scotland are entitled to know what, if the Labour party believes that action from the Government is required and if this is meant to be more than simply empty rhetoric, a Labour Government would be doing in such circumstances. There was not a scintilla of information from the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

The hon. Gentleman had his chance.

Mr. Dewar

I am responding to the Secretary of State's invitation.

It is unfortunate that this decision was announced before Government influence could be brought to bear. If the Department of Trade and Industry, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister were to see Sir Robert Scholey and put to him the sentiments that the Secretary of State had been putting in Scotland, I would see it as strong evidence of the Government's intention to reverse the decision.

Mr. Rifkind

If the action required by the hon. Gentleman, and the action that he says that a Labour Government would take, were simply that different Ministers would speak to British Steel than are speaking to it now, he cannot claim that that adds up to a fundamentally different approach to these matters.

Over the past few days, there has been great concern in Scotland, from all political parties and across the industrial spectrum, about the announcement by British Steel last week. In the light of some of the comments in newspapers in the south and others, it might be helpful to explain why that concern is felt so deeply. There is perhaps an impression in some quarters that the only point at issue is the loss of 770 jobs. Similar announcements in various parts of the United Kingdom have not led to similar reactions.

Irrespective of political views, all of us in Scotland know that the issues involved are wider and greater than that and that the concern is, first, that closure of the hot strip mill could severely weaken, and might lead to the closure of, Ravenscraig as a whole, with the loss of about 3,200 jobs in an area of high unemployment. Secondly, if that happened—it must be seen as a possibility in the light of the announcement by British Steel—for all practical purposes it would signal the end of the steel industry in Scotland. Therefore, wider issues are involved than simply the number of jobs to be lost from closure of the hot strip mill.

An additional important factor is that over the past three years, throughout the United Kingdom, but including Ravenscraig, British Steel has been making some remarkable achievements. Privatisation, far from leading to a decline in the industry as a whole, has brought tremendous new profitability and competitiveness, for which British Steel is to be congratulated and admired. It is a remarkable achievement. It is also significant that throughout that period Ravenscraig, including the hot strip mill, contributed to that profitability and was part of the success story. That makes last week's announcement much more significant.

As far back as October 1985, Sir Robert Haslam, the then chairman of British Steel, said in evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs: "Ravenscraig is in profit." If that was true in 1985, the tremendous progress made by British Steel and by Ravenscraig since suggests that the company's profitability must, if anything, be greater rather than lesser.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I will do so shortly.

Not only Ravenscraig but its hot strip mill have been functioning to substantial effect. The House may recall that five years ago British Steel contemplated closing the mill but had second thoughts. It turned out that those second thoughts were better than its first thoughts, because far from the market for the mill's products declining, it substantially increased—partly due to British Steel's own success—and the mill was fully utilised.

Another aspect is the dearth of information available to British Steel's employees. I say without qualification that we all recollect the point made by British Steel to its work force at Ravenscraig a few years ago, that the best prospect for the future of the plant, including the hot strip mill, would be increased productivity and competitiveness, and good industrial relations. I do not believe that there has been one iota of criticism from any quarter about the way that Ravenscraig's work force responded. Although that does not guarantee the work force a future livelihood—nor can it—it imposes an obligation on British Steel, in the event of a very unpalatable announcement having to be made, to give its employees the reasons for it.

Mr. Sillars

The Secretary of State mentioned a remark made by Sir Robert Haslam to a previous Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I draw attention to the words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment, which invite British Steel to explain and defend its decision". To whom is British Steel to explain and defend its decision"? Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Scotland will take it as a clear sign of the Government's determination not only totally to condemn British Steel but to examine the whole issue properly if he, the Leader of the House and the Cabinet announce this week that they have overcome the problems involved and will convene a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs very quickly, for the single purpose of investigating British Steel's contention that it is taking the right commercial decisions? It seems to me that a Select Committee would be the right instrument for judging whether British Steel's action is correct. Will the Secretary of State back that proposal?

Mr. Rifkind

I note the hon. Gentleman's comment, but I cannot help but recollect that when we last had such a Select Committee his party refused to be represented on it. Such a proposal does not sound very convincing coming from that quarter.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked what role the Government should play in the circumstances that have arisen. I refer to the interesting and constructive remarks by Mr. Brennan, the leader of the Ravenscraig shop stewards, whom I met this morning. He began by telling me that he wanted to make it absolutely clear that the case for the hot strip mill and for Ravenscraig as a whole must be fought and determined on commercial grounds, and on those grounds alone. Mr. Brennan went out of his way to emphasise to me the point that he has made publicly: that political campaigns and emotional appeals to British Steel or anyone else would be counter-productive. It is a sign of the changing position in Scotland, as throughout the United Kingdom, that Ravenscraig's leading shop steward should have made that point.

I noted that in its editorial this morning the Glasgow Herald, which serves the west of Scotland, said: No one is advocating old-style interventionism. Everyone agrees with Mr. Rifkind that the case has to be argued on a commercial and not an emotional basis. It should be understood by all hon. Members that the work force and many others in Scotland believe that this matter will ultimately be determined by British Steel. There is no question of the Government issuing orders to a company, whether it be British Steel or any other, about what it should do with its plant and factory. British Steel will reach its own decision, but that is not against the interests of the Scottish economy.

The hon. Member for Garscadden is responsible for the motion on the Order Paper. Unlike the early-day motion that was tabled a few days ago, it calls on the Government to do all within their power without specifying what that might be. That is a throwback to a previous age, and I certainly could not recommend that my hon. Friends support such a motion.

Mr. Dewar

I hope that the Secretary of State will spell out what he will do and what steps he is taking to fight the case on the commercial grounds to which he refers and which he supports.

Mr. Rifkind

I wish to continue my remarks and address the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

It is an issue of commercial judgment. The convenor of Ravenscraig, Tommy Brennan, said that it is a commercial, viable industry. To assist the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the question of commercial judgment, does he recollect that he stood still when the South of Scotland Electricity Board decided to import 1 million tonnes of Chinese coal, which was grossly impractical? The market is not always correct. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that proved a disastrous contract, which he could have stopped.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to differ on the merits of his point.

The Government are not, cannot be expected to be, and are not expected by most of those in Scotland to be responsible for trying to run the steel industry. That does not mean that the Government can simply be disinterested when decisions are announced that have significant employment implications. That does not apply only in Scotland, and it cannot be relevant to British Steel alone. If any major United Kingdom company, such as British Aerospace or ICI, were to withdraw from the United Kingdom, of course Ministers would be concerned and would wish to discuss it with the chairman of the relevant company. They would wish to hear the reasons for that and to express their concern. The company would decide what its decision should be, but Ministers must be concerned.

I say to the House and to those commentators in the south who have expressed disagreement with such an approach that that would be relevant irrespective of which part of the United Kingdom was affected. British Steel, as the amendment states, should recognise the concern that has been expressed and explain and defend its decision. If it believes that there are justifiable commercial grounds for a decision that would have significant and serious implications for the economy in an important part of Scotland, it is not unreasonable to expect it to explain its reasons, especially to the work force. I will certainly be urging it to do so.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)


Mr. Rifkind

May I continue? Many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. The more that I give way, the fewer hon. Members will be able to do so.

The hon. Member for Garscadden said that Ravenscraig is of great importance to the economy of Scotland. As I said in the Scottish Grand Committee, and it is important to emphasise it, Ravenscraig is crucial to the well-being of the people of Motherwell and to the economy of Lanarkshire because of the employment implications. It has significance and implications for the wider Scottish economy, just as any other major employer does. It is not the largest employer in Scotland, and Labour Members do a disservice to the cause that they wish to advocate by overstating their points. There are a substantial number of large employers in Scotland who make a useful and valuable contribution to the Scottish economy. One thinks of Ferranti with 6,000 employees, the Rosyth dockyard with 5,300 employees, Rolls-Royce with 4,960 employees and similar companies.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

How many steel mills?

Mr. Rifkind

By all means let the Opposition emphasise the serious and severe implications for the Lanarkshire economy and suggest the implications for the wider Scottish economy, but they know as well as I do that the importance of Ravenscraig is similar to that of IBM, Ferranti and other companies of a comparable size. It is not appropriate to suggest that different fundamental considerations apply.

Only one in 300 employees in Scotland works at Ravenscraig—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am sorry, but if the Opposition think that exaggeration and emotion help their case, they are doing a disservice to the people of Ravenscraig and I will have no truck with it.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

No one denies that there are bigger employers than Ravenscraig in Scotland. But can the right hon. and learned Gentleman name any other concern which, by its closure, would withdraw 50 per cent. of the freight transport from British Rail, almost 25 per cent. of the electricity consumed and a huge amount of fuel and cause such massive repercussions in terms of services throughout Scotland as would Ravenscraig? I doubt whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman could find one such concern.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman has a good case, but he must not exaggerate it. He referred to the use of electricity, but he should know that 1.5 per cent. of the total output of power in Scotland goes to Ravenscraig. Ravenscraig is as important as any other customer would be. The hon. Gentleman must not spoil a good case by exaggerating it. I do not in any way intend to underestimate the importance of Ravenscraig, but I will not be tempted into suggesting that somehow the future of the Scottish economy depends on one Scottish plant.

Mr. Dickens

I hope that I shall be helpful. Because of the social consequences and differences between the contracts with British Rail, the Scottish electricity authorities and so on, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the management of British Steel could negotiate keener prices with these companies that depend so much on Ravenscraig, Ravenscraig could again become a commercial consideration?

Hon. Members

It is.

Mr. Rifkind

As my hon. Friend the Member for Littleworth and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) will realise from the response to his intervention, the point at issue is whether at present there is a good commercial case for maintaining the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig. We hope that British Steel will provide proper information on that point.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)


Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)


Mr. Rifkind

I should like to continue my remarks because I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to take part.

Mr. Dewar

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way on his latter point?

Mr. Rifkind

If I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, I should have to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang). I must ask the hon. Member for Garscadden not to insist.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked me about contacts that we have had with British Steel over the past few months, so it might be helpful if I put them on the record. There have been meetings with Sir Robert Scholey at ministerial level, a meeting between my officials and the chief executive and ministerial and official correspondence with the company. There have also been telephone contacts between my officials and British Steel, both at plant management level and with the chief executive. During that period, I instructed my officials to prepare a paper making the commercial case for further investment at Dalzell in the context of British Steel's current review of plate strategy. A decision to expand Dalzell would, of course, have consequences for the future security of steelmaking at Ravenscraig. It can be seen, therefore, that over the past few months we have had ongoing contact with British Steel about its operations in Scotland.

Three weeks ago, I asked Sir Robert to come to see me to discuss various matters—in particular, the Scottish Office paper on plate mill investment. He replied that he would be willing to do so but that he particularly wished to see me on 15 May as his board was meeting the previous day and he wished to inform me of decisions likely to be taken by his board. I was concerned by the implications of that and asked Sir Robert to come to see me before the board met. We had an informal meeting on 3 May, but he gave me no information then regarding the proposals that were likely to be put to his board. Nevertheless, I asked him whether the board would be considering plate mill investment as it affected Dalzell but he said that a decision on that was unlikely for some months. I made it clear to him that, if the board considered the future of the hot strip mill at that meeting, I hoped that, given its contribution to British Steel's profitability, the mill would not be closed as that would have implications for the future of Ravenscraig as a whole and I would find it necessary to express my views in the event of such an announcement. Sir Robert quite properly declined to comment on what his board was about to consider.

My next meeting with Sir Robert was on 15 May. The suggestion that the Scottish Office has had no contact with British Steel over the past few months is completely bogus.

I have been asked whether there might be an alternative purchaser for British Steel's assets in Scotland. Hon. Members have referred to the commitment in the prospectus, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The shop stewards themselves have emphasised that that is not their first option. They wish British Steel to continue to have responsibility for its assets at Ravenscraig, and that is a view that many will share. It would be helpful if British Steel could say whether it believes that the circumstances referred to in the prospectus, in which it would contemplate an alternative private sector purchaser for its assets, now pertain. If British Steel does not believe that that stage has been reached, it would help if it would outline the circumstances in which such arrangements would apply and it would also help if British Steel could confirm that it sees itself as remaining committed to such a course. We must be clear that, for that option to be worth considering further, it is necessary not only that there should be a willing seller but that there should be a potential buyer. If there is a potential buyer at home or abroad, it would help our continuing debate if that interest made itself felt.

Mr. Dewar

During our exchanges following the private notice question on Wednesday, the Secretary of State said unambiguously that he deplored the decision that had been made and that he sought to have it reversed. Is that still his position, and how does he intend to achieve that?

Mr. Rifkind

It is indeed still my position. Everything that I said to the House last week remains exactly and without qualification my position. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks.

Mr. Grylls

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that all Conservative Members believe that he is acting entirely honourably in taking his present line and seeking more information from British Steel about its proposals? None of us would do any less for our constituencies. But will he bear in mind British Steel's record in job creation, given that since 1976 British Steel has created 45,000 new jobs at Corby, Consett, Sheffield and Shotton, where there had been huge job losses? New jobs can be created if the closure finally goes ahead.

Mr. Rifkind

Of course my hon. Friend is correct, and there are good precedents to suggest that if, unfortunately, jobs are lost in a locality—even in an area of high unemployment—it is not the end of the world. Having said that, one hopes that that can be averted in the first place because there is a significant time lag in creating new employment or attracting it to the area and, in the meantime, significant unemployment results. Our main objective is to establish whether British Steel will be prepared to reconsider the decision that it announced last week.

We must all be realistic. We cannot assume that the representations will succeed. As Secretary of State for Scotland, I have a responsibility to consider the implications for Motherwell if the hot strip mill closed next year. Accordingly, on a contingency basis, I am asking the Industry Department for Scotland and the Scottish Development Agency, together with the other relevant interests including local authority and private sector interests, to consider what could be done to encourage new employment and investment in Motherwell in the event of the hot strip mill closing—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are giving up."] No, it is not a question of giving up. Opposition Members would be the first to criticise in nine months' time if the campaign to save the hot strip mill did not succeed and if the Government had done nothing to anticipate that possibility. I want to be entirely frank with the people of Motherwell. We know and Opposition Members know perfectly well that there can be no guarantee for a campaign of this sort. My responsibility is to use the facilities available to anticipate one possible outcome and, on a contingency basis, to plan what that would involve. I make no apology for that.

We will also want to explore with British Steel the statement that it made last week that the company will take positive steps through British Steel Industry Limited to assist in the creation of new jobs in Motherwell. Clearly, that would he an important component.

Of course, our primary desire is for British Steel to respond to the concern that has been expressed. If it cannot explain and defend the decision that it announced last week, we will be delighted if it reverses that decision. There is already a precendent for British Steel doing just that: three years ago it reversed an intention to close the hot strip mill and that was found to have been a wise change of mind because the mill went on to high productivity and to contribute towards the profitability of British Steel's operations. British Steel had second thoughts then, and I very much hope that it will have second thoughts now. That would benefit the future of the people of Motherwell and Lanarkshire, and it might also make an important contribution to British Steel's ongoing profitability.

4.32 pm
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me early in this debate. I am also grateful to you and to other hon. Members on both sides of the House for your good wishes following my recent heart operation. I am sure that hon. Members will understand if I do not stay for the whole debate.

The closure of the great Ravenscraig works and Dalzell works in my constituency would be a grievous blow to Lanarkshire and to the whole of Scotland, with the loss of 10,000 jobs and £100 million a year in income. The social consequences do not bear thinking about. It would not be the death of the local community, nor the end for the steel workers of Ravenscraig. They are too fine workers, there is too great a strength and vitality in the local community for that. But it would be a painful and bitter 15 years of the kind that we hoped was behind us. Over the past 15 years, we have already lost three times the number of steel jobs that remain. The case for a comprehensive redevelopment programme for Lanarkshire is there already.

No steel workers, certainly not the steel workers at Ravenscraig and Dalzell, see themselves as working in a national symbol, still less an industrial museum. They see themselves as producing efficiently a useful commodity for a fair wage. They would not be there if their work was not economic and commercially viable. They do not need to be told that it is the economic and commercial case that has to be argued.

It is not my intention to apportion blame. It is my duty to ask what can sensibly be done, and to call for it to be done. The Secretary of State has said British Steel has not provided any details as to why it believes that the closure of the hot strip mill is necessary. That is true. But the underlying strategy of British Steel has been clear since the closure of the cold strip mill at Gartcosh. Although it is public information, neither the privatisation prospectus of British Steel nor any of the stockbrokers' circulars gave the capacities of the different stages of steel production in each of the major works. It was left to the Arthur Young report, commissioned by Motherwell district council, to spell out the underlying strategy of British Steel, which would be carried to its logical conclusion if British Steel was constituted as a private monopoly producer, with its monopoly power in the United Kingdom strengthened by the higher transport costs from elsewhere in the European Community.

In strip products, the bottleneck lay in continuous casting at Port Talbot and Llanwern. Ravenscraig pioneered continuous casting in British Steel flat products, and long ago achieved 100 per cent. continuous casting. The commissioning of the continuous casting extensions at Port Talbot planned for early in 1991 would mean that British Steel could then attain its peak 1989 levels of output without Ravenscraig. Now, with British Steel's announcement of the further continuous casting at Llanwern, all three strip mills will have 100 per cent. continuous casting by 1993, putting the final question mark over Ravenscraig.

In the current review of plate strategy, the lowest cost solution would be the redevelopment of the Dalzell heavy plate mill. Scunthorpe knows that it is not capable of rolling greater thicknesses of steel. But that deal option would be ruled out if Dalzell could not rely on a continuing supply of slabs from Ravenscraig. The prior announcement of the run-down at Ravenscraig appears to be a move to pre-empt the decision on plate strategy. In fact, the decisions are interdependent. The reality is probably that British Steel is putting them to its board separately to ease their acceptance.

In 1989, British Steel worked flat out, yet there was a record £20 billion deficit in Britain's balance of payments. Since then, the prospect for final demand for steel in the United Kingdom has increased with the expansion plans of our depleted motor industry, promising the biggest increase in vehicle production of any country in the Community. The European Commission has concluded that it is possible for steel plants to operate at lower levels of average capacity than previously assumed. The idea that "it is possible to maintain steadier" demand by restricting capacity does not work, since customers lost at the peak do not return at the trough, and suppliers abandoned at the trough will not oblige by supplying at the peak.

The first question, therefore, is whether 1989 steel capacity to which British Steel proposes to restrict itself without Ravenscraig strip products is consistent with the restoration of economic growth and the balance of payments in the United Kingdom.

The smaller vessels and specialised plant at Ravenscraig have enabled it to produce difficult-to-roll products like electrical steels which have not been economic at Port Talbot and Llanwern. It is widely expected that if British Steel acquires Klockner in Germany, it will source such special steels from there, and cease its production in the United Kingdom. The second question is therefore whether the restriction in product range without Ravenscraig will further weaken Britain's competitive position.

Both those questions will have been considered by British Steel. If its decision is to be questioned on the ground of competition policy which the present Government and all Governments must have, as a monopolistic or restrictive practice, the mechanism for doing so is the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in the United Kingdom, and the European Commission. The formal and informal review would almost inevitably have both a United Kingdom and a European dimension. But, as most Ravenscraig products come under the treaty of Paris, the primary formal responsibility for competition policy in this case would probably lie with the European Commission. The European Commission regulatory regime has certainly been moving away from restricting competition and capacity to expanding it, as with the planned ending of voluntary restraint agreements on imports of steel by 1992, but it would be expecting too much to rely solely on that approach.

The third question is technology. The continuous casting of 9 to 12in thick slabs, now operating at Ravenscraig and still being extended at Port Talbot and Llanwern, is an obsolescent technology. The new technology is thin-slab casting, with continuously cast slabs 2in thick going straight into a slimmed-down hot mill, and coming out as hot rolled coil only 0.lin thick, with little work for a slimmed-down cold mill to do to reduce the coil to a typical 0.04in thick cold rolled strip of the kind used for car bodies. Furthermore, the strip is superior, very fine grain steel, as a result of the more rapid cooling than is found in the present thick-slab technology. The mills are smaller, but considerably more sophisticated than conventional hot and cold mills.

The pioneering thin-slab caster is now being run in by the Nucor Corporation at Crawfordsville, Indiana. An informative article on it appears in the current May edition of Metal Bulletin Monthly, the leading international journal of the steel industry. The expected cost reduction over thick-slab steel is a decisive $50 to $75 per ton, and energy savings are substantial. The Nucor plant uses electric arc steel, which limits the purity of the steel to that of the scrap used. But the process is operable on basic oxygen steel in an integrated steel works, though its introduction will require a serious but manageable development effort. Sooner or later, integrated steel works will have to come to grips with this new technology.

Ravenscraig is well suited to be the pioneer plant for the introduction of the technology to integrated steel making because it is large enough to introduce an effectively new strip product to world markets, while its relatively small vessel size and the need to upgrade and replace the present finishing end make it suitable as a development plant. There are certain aspects in which it looks as if Ravenscraig's continuous casting experience could already improve on Nucor practice. The development would be complementary to the investment planned at Port Talbot and Llanwern.

The Government should offer British Steel this option for Ravenscraig, as a pioneering development plant, in addition to its present roles, essential in any production complex, as the swing plant and the maker of special products. It is not a soft option.

While the Economic Community state aids code bans subsidies, it allows support for investment involving research and development, which would certainly be the case here. Other European countries support civil industrial research to a greater extent than we do, and the record shows they benefit commercially. It is fully economic for Governments and the European Community to enable private firms to go beyond the short term and conservative practices which so many firms believe their shareholders require of them. There is no reason why such a development at Ravenscraig should not be a joint venture between British Steel and other European, American or Japanese companies. All face the same problem of introducing this important new technology.

There is much technical and commercial investigation to be done before such decision can be made. The Government should seek the full participation of British Steel, which I believe would be forthcoming. I have a letter from Mr. Martin Llowarch, chief executive of British Steel, confirming that thin-slab casting will have a major effect on strip products. If I am wrong, and British Steel will not co-operate, the Government should go ahead with other steel companies. It would be best if the necessary investigations were started by this Government, but against the timetable which British Steel has set out, it would not be too late to initiate such a development after the election.

This is not the first time that I have suggested a major development project to a private British steel company. Nearly 25 years ago I suggested to the Steel Company of Wales—before nationalisation—that it should develop the world's first adaptive computer control system for its cold mill. A young engineer whose first job in the steel industry was on that project is now the works director at Shotton.

I speak as the Member privileged to represent the constituency that contains Ravenscraig, but as Opposition spokesman on science and technology I believe that this is the kind of industrial development project which any Government should be prepared to back after full investigation. I would say to my constituents that we have learned not to trust people who offer us guarantees in a world where we are accustomed to having to win the hard way, but I firmly believe that this readiness to embrace the future is the best route for us to pursue.

British Steel has a task of human and not merely financial reconstruction—I am thinking not of social obligations, but of the morale, capability and enterprise of the people whom British Steel will need to employ in the future. They will wish to respond to the kind of challenge that I propose, and I believe that they will.

4.46 pm
Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members in welcoming back to the House the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) after his recent operation. As always, the House listened intently to him because he speaks with an unrivalled personal knowledge of the industry and was most constructive. We all extend to him our best wishes for a steady, continuing and full recovery.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred to some of the reports about Ravenscraig in the English press. I was surprised by the tone of some of those comments, about which it is worth saying two things. First, no one has been calling for a subsidy, as was alleged. The hon. Member for Garscadden did not call for a subsidy—I do not know what he was calling for, but I shall leave that aside for the moment. There is simply no question of the Scottish interest, or of Scottish steel workers, Scottish Members of Parliament or the Government seeking a subsidy. Secondly, the reports seemed to suggest that the position taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was unexpected, unusual or incompatible with the principles that the Government have adopted in their approach to industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government have rightly rejected old-style interventionism, which has had such disastrous consequences for many parts of Scotland as for other parts of the United Kingdom. However, to reject interventionism is not to argue that when major decisions such as the one we are considering have been announced industry and Government are inhabiting wholly different worlds. That is an absurd proposition.

That is as true of the Department of Trade and Industry as it is of the Scottish Office. One of the Sunday newspapers rightly referred to the limousines of the captains of industry queueing up at 1 Victoria street—the headquarters of the DTI—and commented, "They must be talking to somebody."

Yes, management must manage, but to accept that proposition is not in any sense to accept that there is some law of management infallibility. My right hon. and learned Friend rightly said that in 1987 British Steel nearly closed the strip mill at Ravenscraig. That was followed by three years of record production.

Let me give another constituency example. Hon. Members will recall the campaign about the Armitage Shanks tubal works in Barrhead. On that occasion, my hon. Friend the Minister of State asked the holding company to defer the redundancies to allow a full study of constructive alternatives to take place. That position was fully and publicly endorsed by the Prime Minister. My right hon. and learned Friend's position is perfectly correct, and it is wrong to suggest that he has taken a unique stance that is incompatible with previous Government decisions.

If British Steel is to be persuaded to change its mind, two things must happen. First, there must be a united and sensible response from all concerned. Partisan points have been made in the debate—it would be surprising if they had not—but, broadly speaking, Scotland has so far given a united response to the announcement. Secondly, as my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said, British Steel will be persuaded to change its position only by commercial facts and figures, and perhaps by the constructive suggestions made this afternoon by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South. It will not be persuaded by ranting and raving—however satisfying such activity may be to hon. Members.

During the past few days, some Opposition Members seem to have been obsessed with studying every statement made by every Minister or spokesman to see whether minute observation can detect textual or syntactical differences between what was said on different occasions. They remind me of the mediaeval scholastics who spent so many years arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin: their activity is about as useful.

I do not wish to stir up passions in other parts of the United Kingdom by making remarks about the Welsh, but for a long time there has been a suspicion that the decisions of the senior management of the company—now and before it was privatised—have been biased in favour of south Wales and against Ravenscraig. That may or may not be correct, but the feeling exists regardless. That is why I argued—as did the hon. Member for Motherwell, South, with greater expertise—for the break-up of British Steel on privatisation, and why I support the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker).

Of course the Secretary of State was right to say that we must not take our eye off the ball, and that our priority must be to put forward a rational case to encourage British Steel to change its position. He was also right to announce today contingency plans for the regeneration of Lanarkshire in the regrettable event of the decision going ahead. I was astonished that Opposition Members jeered that decision. Do they not want contingency plans? Do they think that there is an absolute guarantee that the decision can be reversed? There is no such guarantee.

We must face up to the possibility that a decision may already have been made to close Ravenscraig in the long term. Although I have no knowledge that it has been, we must recognise that it is a possibility.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

If the Secretary of State's initiative goes ahead—whether or not the strip mill closes—it is likely to produce enormous benefits for Lanarkshire with the introduction of new industry.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. It does no one any good for Opposition Members to deride the efforts made throughout Scotland, by people of all political persuasions, to regenerate areas that have faced major closures. If the decision has been made, the sooner British Steel fulfils its obligations to offer Ravenscraig for sale—if it has no further use for it—the better. However, that is not, and cannot be, the priority for the moment. It is better for that possibility to be faced in a year's time than in 1994, when I suspect there will be no possibility of a buyer coming forward with sensible proposals.

The entire House will agree that the trade unions have reacted with determination, and also with great common sense. They have the right to expect the House to act with the same common sense.

4.56 pm
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

It is a testimony to the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) that there are few speeches that are worth getting out of a sick bed and coming to the House to hear.

The Secretary of State for Scotland referred to passion, anger and emotion. It is inevitable that there will be some of that today, partly because of the importance of the Ravenscraig plant to the entire Scottish economy, partly because of the pride in the efforts of the Ravenscraig work force that has existed for many years—a professional pride shared by a cross-section of Scottish opinion, regardless of political persuasion—and partly because survival has never been easy for Ravenscraig or its work force, but has had to be fought for and won, sometimes at an immense price in terms of self-sacrifice and effort. However, there would be no identification, interest or attachment on the part of people throughout Scotland—highland crofters, border farmers, manual workers and professionals from the lowlands and the west of Scotland—without that passion. There is emotion too: no group of men and women have fought for so long with such vigour, dignity and sheer common sense as the Ravenscraig work force.

When the Secretary of State warns us against emotion, I hope that he realises that it is not always negative emotion. I make no apology for not adopting the clinical approach of the mercenary advocate on behalf of Ravenscraig. However, both he and my good friend Tommy Brennan will be pleased to know that, although passion and emotion will be involved, they will not be the substance of our argument this afternoon. That would be to demean the efforts of the work force, who would be the last to indulge in sentimentality or to seek charity. The Secretary of State knows that, as he met them this morning. He must also know that, contrary to the poisoned opinions of some London leader-writers for whom Motherwell appears to be a faraway town—a town about which they care little and obviously know even less—the case for Ravenscraig has never been based on sentimentality. It has been based on an appreciation of hard facts of commercial and industrial importance—facts relating to industrial productivity and industrial performance as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South outlined in far greater detail than any other hon. Member could the economic and industrial alternatives that may be considered. In view of some of the myths, inaccuracies and half-truths that have been stated, I shall reassert several simple facts.

First, last week the chairman of British Steel did not announce merely the closure of the hot strip mill; implicit in every detail was the closure of the whole Ravenscraig plant. That announcement was predictable and, indeed, predicted not only by my hon. Friend and me, but in the Arthur Young report which was commissioned by Motherwell district council, was widely available and was ridiculed by Ministers in 1987–88. Although the closure may have been predictable, it was not inevitable. It could have been avoided if the Government had heeded the warnings before and during privatisation.

I do not wish to spend time on recriminations. I mention that fact only because British Steel's so-called guarantees in December 1987, as I said at the time, were more a timetable for the execution of the plant than anything else. It is clear from the announcement of the closure of the hot strip mill that it is a timetable to which the chairman of British Steel is keeping exactly. It implies the closure of the whole plant in 1993–94. That is what we are fighting against today. We are fighting not only for the 1,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the hot strip mill, but for the 2,500 employees over and above those to whom Bob Scholey gave notice last Wednesday. If Bob Scholey wins his case, we will also be fighting for the Dalzell plate mill. Nobody who knows anything about steel believes that he will leave Clydesdale tube works on its own, 400 miles from the rest of British Steel's operations. Therefore, let us be clear about the importance of the announcement about the hot strip mill. If Bob Scholey wishes to blow the Scottish steel industry to bits, the Ravenscraig hot strip mill is the trigger that he is using.

Secondly—this has been covered in a dispute, more academic than real, between the Secretary of State and me—the Ravenscraig plant is crucial not only for Lanarkshire, but for Scotland in terms of freight, transport industries, road and rail, the Clyde port authority, electricity and fuel. Thirdly, the hot strip mill is not a dispensable luxury to either the Ravenscraig plant or British Steel. For the past three years it has been working to capacity and, as the Secretary of State said, producing steel of high quality. It is important to remember that it has overcome the tremendous difficulties of producing high-quality steel, which cannot easily be replaced by alternative production in high-volume plants within British Steel. Until last Wednesday, the mill was commercially viable and in the absense of detailed information to the contrary it must continue to be considered commercially viable.

Fourthly, Ravenscraig is not only commercially viable, but one of the most productive plants in Europe. The Japanese and many others use it as a measure of productivity and a yardstick for economic efficiency man hours per tonne. At Ravenscraig workers are producing and operating on a figure of 2.33 man hours per tonne. That is the best and most efficient figure not only in British Steel and the United Kingdom, but in the whole of Europe. Every productivity record at Ravenscraig has been broken and every target set by the management attained. The workers at Ravenscraig have not been given the right to continue by Sir Robert Scholey; they have earned it.

Fifthly, all that has been achieved despite immense obstacles placed before the work force in terms of inadequate investment, unfair preferential loading, intermittent production pauses and, always, the morale-sapping suspicion that, whatever the effort and results, they will remain on Black Bob's blacklist for eventual closure. Let me make it clear that neither I nor anyone else in any way associated with Ravenscraig resents investment in other plants. That investment is the instrument of security for thousands of dedicated workers. We are saying that the same long-term security has been earned by the work force in the Motherwell plant.

Sixthly, if British Steel management has been wrong—the Secretary of State intimated that—at times it has been infamously wrong in its forecasts of future demands. That is why the research undertaken at the behest of Motherwell district council may prove invaluable to our cause. I do not say that British Steel has been alone in its forecasting errors, but forecasting is a vital element in the present decision. There is a strong case for arguing that there is no over-capacity within British Steel and, indeed, that the so-called over-capacity has been built in to justify the closure. Hon. Members may ask why. Surely it is not merely because of the prejudices of the chairman of a large corporation. Let none of us forget that British Steel is a monopoly producer. It was privatised as a monopoly, despite the arguments of Labour and Conservative Members. The reduction in capacity within British Steel can be viewed as reasonably as a measure for price increasing as for cost cutting. For that reason, I commend to the Secretary of State the suggestion of Mr. Hamish Morrison of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) that a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission should be seriously considered, lest British Steel is allowed the freedom to abuse its monopoly to the detriment of all its United Kingdom consumers. Alternatively, the matter should be referred to the European Commission, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South suggested.

There is every indication of a strengthening of demand for strip steel products. The North sea oil industry is undergoing the first stages of a new revolution. Every indicator suggests that the car industry stands on the brink of a new upsurge. The deterioration in condition and decrease in numbers of our merchant fleet demands urgent attention. I name but three areas of potential expansion. Given those signs, the price increase incentive to British Steel and its history of forecasting, it would be a rash man indeed who would be prepared to take at face value the assurances of the chairman of British Steel.

Finally, the steelworks and strip mill are particularly well placed to provide the products for expected future demand. As I said earlier, it has been an ironic quirk of what some consider to be the unfair development plan a propos Ravenscraig that it has become the plant that produces high-quality, difficult-to-make steels. If the hot strip mill goes, it is extremely doubtful whether steels of such difficulty and quality can be produced by any other high-volume plant within the present corporation. That would be a loss not only to Motherwell and Scotland, but to British Steel and our balance of payments.

The Secretary of State asked what could be done. There are options open to the Government and to Ravenscraig. Hon. Members have mentioned restrictive or monopolistic practices and the possibility of a reference to the Office of Fair Trading, the MMC and the European Commission. There are avenues which the Government could consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South outlined Ravenscraig's capacity to produce high-quality steels, the need for research and development, the demands of developing technology and the future appropriateness of Ravenscraig for thin-slab casting.

An independent Scottish steel industry has been mentioned and, although I do not underestimate the problems in terms of capital input, the finishing side at Ravenscraig and difficulties with Clydesdale, it is an option. The Secretary of State and his colleagues have mentioned an enforced sell-off. All such options would be closed to Ravenscraig if British Steel were allowed to close and remove the hot strip mill from the site. That is why I unashamedly believe that the maximum political unity on this issue is not only appropriate, but essential. I commend that approach to everyone in the House. In case my argument is viewed with suspicion by some, I also commend to them the editorial in this morning's edition of the Daily Record which has, as so often in the past, its finger on the pulse of Scotland.

Our motion has not been framed to suggest that we have no criticisms of the Government. We have worries and they were heightened by the announcement today of the meeting held on 3 May—the first time it has been mentioned by the Secretary of State. However, because our overriding priority is to achieve the greatest possible consensus in defence of the Ravenscraig plant, the issue is not and should not be a matter of personal reputation, party advantage or personal advance. We will never be forgiven if we make it so. That does not mean that we should forgo an examination of all the available options, but it means having the maturity and wisdom to realise that if we cannot speak with one voice in opposition to the British Steel decision, none of the possible options has a likely future.

I am disappointed by the Government's response today. Our motion intentionally avoids criticism of their previous stand. It is liberal, some would say too liberal, in omitting to mention what some consider as previous errors on the part of the Government. It is almost word for word, as was previously mentioned, the motion that Scottish Conservative Back-Benchers rushed to sign in their zeal to be identified with Ravenscraig's case less than a week ago. The Government, however, have found themselves unable to support the sentiments expressed in the motion. People outside will ask why. Are we to believe that the Government, who found British Steel's decision deplorable last week, now find it less so five days later?

Mr. Rifkind

indicated dissent.

Dr. Reid

I am glad to note that the decision is still regarded as deplorable. Are we to understand that the call from Conservative Back-Benchers to reverse the decision last Wednesday has become one to acquiesce to it? That is what their refusal to support our motion in the Lobby tonight will mean.

What are we to make of the Government's amendment? We have all heard of the importance of the three Rs, and today we have seen the confusion between the two Rs—Rifkind and Ridley. One half of the amendment, presumably the Scottish Office half, invites British Steel to explain, presumably to its work force, the commercial grounds on which its decision was taken. That is fine as far as it goes, but the other half of the amendment negates that as it insists that the issue is the exclusive business of British Steel. That part obviously emanated from the Department of Trade and Industry, although its Secretary of State has not even bothered to turn up today or even to put his name to the amendment. Once again he is presumed dead, missing in inaction.

The one thing the Government amendment does is to distil the impression, unfortunately prevalent since the closure was announced, of confusion, division and vacillation in the Government. I take no satisfaction from saying that and I wish that that was not the perception gained. The position of the Secretary of State is unenvious. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity when he says that he deplores the British Steel decision—even if I did have reason, I would be inclined today to suppress my suspicions. However, I and others, including the people of Scotland, have every reason to doubt his assertion that he carries with him a Cabinet united in deploring the decision of British Steel and committed to reversing it. That doubt is a grave handicap in the battle to save the hot strip mill, but it is an even graver handicap for the Secretary of State. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot command the support and confidence of his Cabinet colleagues in his fight for Ravenscraig, he will command it in precious little else of value to the people of Scotland.

This morning the right hon. and learned Gentleman met Tommy Brennan and, according to news reports, he assured him that he "wholeheartedly supported" the fight to save the strip mill and ultimately the Craig. Tonight the eyes of Scotland will be upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues. I hope that they do not fail to live up to the expectations created by the impression they have already given. If they do, they will be failing not only Tommy Brennan and the workers of Ravenscraig, but Scotland.

5.15 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I listened with great interest to the speeches of the hon. Members for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) and for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid). I agreed with much of the speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North, but I was saddened that, at the end, he made some narrow points. I was also saddened that, when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) opened the debate, he did not give way to me on a fundamental and important part of the Opposition's motion, which calls on the Government to do everything possible to reverse a closure All I wanted from the hon. Gentleman was an explanation of what he meant by "everything possible", as my interpretation of that phrase may be different. That is why I cannot support the Opposition's motion. Given the speeches of some Opposition Members, "everything possible" could mean the renationalisation of British Steel. It could mean anything, so I cannot support the motion. If the Opposition asked whether I supported the efforts to get British Steel to reconsider its decision, the answer would be yes. If the Opposition asked whether I believed that the Government should do everything they could within present legislation and the European Community, the answer would be yes.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, South is a remarkable and courageous man to come here so soon after his operation. I only hope that his constituents realise what he has done today. He made one of the best speeches that I have ever heard on the matter, which is a highly emotive and difficult one. He put across difficult technical points in a unique way. I have no knowledge of the steel industry, and it was interesting to listen to fundamental, important technical points being explained in a manner easily understood by those of us not technically qualified or experienced. I found his speech moving as well as easy to understand. The hon. Gentleman, perhaps more than anyone, deserves the Ravenscraig decision to be rethought.

I have no technical knowledge, but based on the information available to me, it is clear that, if the hot strip mill closes, it will inevitably lead to the rest of the British Steel plants in Scotland having a limited life. That is a realistic way in which to look at the situation—it is not an overstatement, nor am I being over-dramatic. One need only study the investment that has gone to south Wales for many years to realise that the steel industry is no different from any others. If such investment goes to one plant, one area or one sector, it is obvious that that one sector will be in a much stronger position in terms of competition and modernisation than the rest of the industry.

I commend to the House the attitude of the shop stewards and the work force. I have always said that Ravenscraig should be judged by its performance in the market place. Anyone who suggests that Tommy Brennan and the other shop stewards in the work force have not responded to all the challenges and tasks with which they have been faced would be distorting the truth. They have done far better than anything that they were asked to achieve. Hon. Members should be seen to support workers who behave in that way.

The future of Ravenscraig and the other Scottish steel plants must be decided by the marketplace. It must be determined by business men making tough, realistic commercial decisions. I take that view not just of Ravenscraig, but of any other operation in the marketplace. I repeat that I believe that the work force at Ravenscraig have earned the right to be treated properly by their employer.

How can British Steel ever hope to motivate its work force in the future if it is judged to have behaved badly or not given its work force the sort of information that any sensible, enlightened employer would give people when decisions affecting their future are being made? That was why I had no hesitation in signing the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North. I believed that it was right to condemn British Steel for the way in which it carried out this exercise.

I have made it quite clear why I cannot support the motion in the name of the Labour party and its leader. I cannot support a motion that calls for "everything possible" to be done in terms that are understood by the Opposition. That was why I thought that the hon. Member for Garscadden, who did not allow me to intervene in his speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] If hon. Members believe what Tommy Brennan and others are asking for, there is no merit in trying to gain narrow political points in such a debate.

I have never made any secret of my views on the marketplace, privatisation and other matters. My condemnation of British Steel is for the way that it has treated the Ravenscraig work force. I shall not in any way withdraw that condemnation, because I believe that Tommy Brennan and his colleagues have earned the right to be treated properly. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, British Steel has once before reviewed a decision, so it is not unrealistic to think that it may do so again. It is also right that British Steel should be required to reconsider any of the needs the work force might have if the hot strip mill were to close. It is important that those 770 people should not be left with no future.

This debate is one of the most important that we have had for a long time on Scotland's future. There is much more to it than just the economic importance. If it were only the economic importance, we could use delightful figures to get round it. However, there is more to it than that. There is the lack of competition for British Steel in the United Kingdom and the need for greater competition. That is why British Steel must be asked now—we should not leave it—to tell us what it meant by its pledge.

Did British Steel mean it when it gave the undertaking that it would sell off its Scottish plants if it saw no future for them? If it meant that, the time to sell those plants is when they are going, profitable concerns and people in the marketplace are prepared to invest. The time to do so is not after a thousand cuts, when they have been made uneconomic and non-viable. That is why I believe that one pressure that the House should put upon British Steel today is to ask it what it means by that pledge. If it cannot convince the House, Tommy Brennan, others in the work force and the hon. Members for Motherwell, North and for Motherwell, South, with their detailed knowledge of the industry, that there is a future and it has investment programmes that secure a realistic future, we should send it a clear message: "Honour your pledge, put those plants on the market and let the marketplace decide the future." Let us have some real competition in the United Kingdom; then perhaps we shall hear British Steel singing a different tune.

5.25 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I agree with the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that this is a crucial debate. The small number of English Members present, some of whom wish to participate in the debate, will, I hope, listen to the wider thrust of the debate. I hope that they will recognise that we are talking not simply about the need to secure an important, continuing investment in the Scottish economy, but about the need to secure the continuing success of a whole industry that has been profitable, and a plant that has made a substantial contribution to the success of British Steel as an entity and deserves better treatment than it has received to date. It has been living with this threat for far too long.

The importance of Ravenscraig to the Scottish economy is not in dispute, at least not among Opposition Members. The Government got into slight difficulties when they argued that it was important to Lanarkshire, but not the whole Scottish economy. Steel is the underpinning of an industrial economy, and ripping steel out of the heart of the Scottish economy is effectively to abolish the platform on which it has been, and should be, built. It does so ironically at a time when the potential market for steel from Scotland is growing and is likely to grow in the coming years.

The hon. Members who were making sedentary comments about this factor have left, but it is invidious to suggest that it is all right to close down a steel mill because British Steel will be able to attract alternative employment into the district in a short time. We all know—it is especially true of central Scotland—that the trouble is that the jobs that come in to replace the jobs lost are in no way comparable in quality, earning power or the contribution that they make to the local economy. To talk simply in terms of numbers is wholly inappropriate.

More important, it must be made absolutely clear that the reason why this closure is so offensive and unjustified is the contribution that Ravenscraig has made to the return to profitability of the British steel industry. It is worth stating that that contribution was placed on record by none other than Sir Bob Scholey and Mr. Stewart, the head of the strip division, who made clear to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on 21 July 1988 just what a constructive and positive role Ravenscraig played in the recovery.

In a moment of hot temper, Sir Robert Scholey revealed his prejudice against Ravenscraig, from which we are now suffering. He has never made any secret of the fact that he wanted to close Ravenscraig. It is unfortunate for him that Ravenscraig has proved profitable, productive and successful. To date, he has been unable to close it, because it has confounded all his prejudices against it.

In reply to a question from me on 21 July 1988, Mr. Stewart said: Ravenscraig has made a very important contribution in the recovery, because of its modern equipment in the steel plant … currently the Ravenscraig steel works is making a substantial contribution, because of its modernity, and the Ravenscraig stip mill is loaded to 15 shifts". Sir Robert Scholey said: we have valuable assets in the Ravenscraig works for which we have an ongoing need … Ravenscraig is a great block: steel plant and mill. Those were the words of Sir Robert Scholey, who is now so anxious to close Ravenscraig, yet they are evidence that it was a plant that was crucial to bringing British Steel to the level of profitability that it has now achieved.

The Liberal Democrats have consistently taken the view that, at the time of privatisation, a separate Scottish-based steel company should have been created. That would have secured the future of the Scottish steel industry; at least it should have, because it would have been done on a viable base. It would have created competition for steel within the United Kingdom and removed the tension in the industry between steel unions and between the interests of Scotland and of Wales. The work forces would have been working for separate companies with separate strategies, carving out separate niches for themselves in the marketplace.

It has been our contention that a degree of competition should be explored. It remains a matter of considerable puzzlement to me that Ministers do not seem to accept their responsibility to promote competition in the marketplace, which they are happy to lecture us about at other times. On 22 February, I asked the Prime Minister whether she accepted that, on the ground of competition alone, the time is right for British Steel's monopoly to be ended and for an independent steel industry to be established, based in Scotland? Would that not best serve the interests of competition and of the Scottish steel industry? The Prime Minister replied: The best guarantee of a successful steel industry has been privatization … The chairman of British Steel has recently reaffirmed that. British Steel also gave the assurance that if it did not need Ravenscraig at some future date it would be prepared to sell it to another buyer. That assurance stands and I wish Ravenscraig well."—[Official Report, 22 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 1062.] The point at issue is that, if British Steel is allowed to close the hot strip mill—to follow the logic through—in due time there will be nothing left that anyone will want to buy. British Steel as a monopoly producer should not be able to determine what it sells, when it sells and on what terms and conditions it sells; the fact that it can shows a total failure of competition policy. So I welcome the intervention by Hamish Morrison of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), suggesting that the matter should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I shall certainly write to Gordon Borrie, Director General of Fair Trading, to suggest that he looks into that proposition.

As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has said, there is a clear possibility that British Steel is seeking to restrict capacity to force up prices—in simple terms, to abuse the monopoly position that privatisation has given it. And it is doing so at a time when the market potential is significantly greater.

It is absurd to believe that British Steel will willingly promote the establishment of a competitor. There is a legitimate role for Government intervention to establish such a competitor if that is the only way of securing the interests of the consumer as well as the strategic interests of the British economy. Some hon. Members from south of the border seem rather cavalier about this: the fact is that the element of the Scottish steel industry for which Ravenscraig is especially well equipped—the North sea oil industry—is on an upswing which is expected to continue for the next decade.

In those circumstances, the decision to close Ravenscraig and ultimately to phase out the whole plant is a decision to abandon that market to foreign competitors, at a time when we have a £20 billion balance of payments deficit. Should not the Government have a view on that? Should they be so sanguine about it?

It is not too facetious to suggest that the logic of the Government's position is that, if British Steel decided that it could not maximise its profitability using steel capacity in the United Kingdom and making its investment here, and decided instead to invest in Korea, presumably the British Government would allow that and take no steps to intervene apart perhaps from remonstrating with the company at a few ministerial meetings. Is there no industrial strategy, no commitment to ensure that there is a strategic bottom line for steel—the more so since we can produce it competitively and efficiently?

The Government, who believe in the marketplace, have already embarrassed themselves by privatising too many monopolies. They should show themselves willing to stand up and force those monopolies to face competition at home and abroad. That is a legitimate basis on which this Conservative Government could intervene within the terms of their own philosophy, and I challenge them to do so. They should also have a view about the strategic base of an industry that we cannot do without, such as steel. I should have thought that servicing the North sea oil industry, with its special steel requirements, was an area in which we should be involved.

Finally, the Government should recognise that they must show more concern about our balance of payments. British Steel should not be allowed to make a bad situation worse merely because that happens to suit its investment priorities and profitability requirements. Ultimately, an independent Scottish steel industry might be the best way forward, and it could be secured as long as British Steel was not left to monopolise the industry.

I welcome the fact that the Committee for the Defence of Scottish Steel has agreed that all options should be pursued and that it will be seeking to gather information that might help to bring about—or at least explore the possibility of—an independent Scottish steel industry. I too accept the need for all-party co-operation to stop this decision and to ensure that every option is explored so that, for the good of Britain and the British economy, the Scottish steel industry will continue to flourish and enjoy an investment base for a long time to come.

5.36 pm
Mr. Mick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

I do not want to prolong the debate by reiterating what has already been said. I fully acknowledge the seriousness of the issue and I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) has just said. We are not just considering the future of Ravenscraig; we are considering something much wider.

I am certainly one of those who believe that if Ravenscraig goes, the future of the Scottish steel industry will have an enormous question mark over it. The issue is even broader than that: I find it difficult to contemplate a modern industrial economy such as Scotland's without a stake in the steel industry. That longer-term element is important, quite apart from the immediate repercussions for those who live in the area and for the economy of Lanarkshire.

I appeal to my colleagues from south of the border. We are dealing with a problem much wider than the mere closure of a single plant. I beg my hon. Friends to understand and sympathise with this broader view. I am sure that if they lived in an area with an economy like that of Scotland they would share my concern.

Secondly, I reiterate what others have said: we must get at the facts, and I do not have confidence that British Steel will provide them unless we put on pressure. I point out to my hon. Friends from south of the border that that is the main point. If they have greater confidence in British Steel than I have, well and good. Let them put pressure on British Steel to provide the facts and show that our case is wrong.

When I was responsible for the offshore oil industry in the North sea I am sure that many hon. Members will acknowledge that I endeavoured to increase the opportunities for British industry, but one of my greatest disappointments was British Steel. Time after time, fabricators, engineering companies and others would tell me that they could not improve the British content of their projects because, for the basic steel content in the fabrication job, they could not get a bid from British Steel or, if they got one, the quality or delivery dates were wrong. Often, therefore, steel came from as far away as Japan because British Steel did not take the commercial opportunities on its doorstep.

This is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right to pressurise British Steel on this. I have no confidence that it is not turning its back on a commercial opportunity. It is right that the whole House should be united against that, and I hope that my English colleagues will unite with us to ensure that British Steel produces the facts on Ravenscraig's commercial position.

It does not matter whether British Steel is nationalised or privatised, and I say that not wishing to widen the debate. One of the reasons given by British Steel for not being able to take advantage of opportunities in the North sea was that it was not given sufficient approval for the investment that was required to produce what was needed in the North sea. That is a criticism not only of my own Government but of previous Governments.

I had hoped that following privatisation there would be more investment and that more opportunity would be taken of what the market place had to offer. I totally support my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he says that we need to get at the commercial facts and that British Steel must justify its decision. Those are the overriding and fundamental objectives and I hope that everyone will unite to achieve those ends. As second best, I would support the proposition advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). If British steel is not prepared to make a go of Ravenscraig and the Scottish steel industry it should step aside and give others the opportunity to do so.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North said, it is easy for a monopoly company such as British Steel to bring about death by a thousand cuts to this section of the steel industry in Scotland. It is easy to whittle down here and there until at the end of the day one is left with an industry that is clearly unviable and in which there may be no private commercial interest.

I accept that it is for British Steel to make the ultimate decision. If it persists in that decision I shall certainly look to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to the Prime Minister and to their colleagues in Cabinet to put the strongest possible pressure on British Steel to ensure that a structurally viable steel business is put on the market for those who may be prepared to take advantage of the commercial opportunities which undoubtedly exist in Scotland.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I draw to the attention of the House that it was on the recommendation of the Office of Fair Trading in the not altogether different circumstances of the Atlas steel foundry in Armadale that, because of the actions of a large English company, the matter was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. There have been two rather favourable judgments in the court of Lord Milligan. I raise those points in support of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention and I hope that appropriate note has been taken of it because it reinforces the case advanced by many of us in the House.

My last point is rather more difficult to make but it is as important as those that I have already made. It deals with the simple question of public responsibility. Some people have spoken as if a company such as British Steel or any large company has a responsibility only to its shareholders. That is not my view of morality in public life. People in business have a responsibility that goes wider than their responsibility to shareholders. First and foremost, they have a responsibility to the workers whom they employ. In this case British Steel should have taken those workers into its confidence and told them exactly what was happening.

I have been concerned with business of one sort or another, mostly small businesses, all my life. I do not know of any small business or business man whom I respect who does not consider in his decisions the community in which he lives. In the village where I was brought up there was a privately-owned paper mill which is, alas, now closed. In all the decisions taken by that paper mill there was some consideration of the effect on the community, on the workers and on the economy of the area. British Steel is in public life and has a moral responsibility to the community to explain what it is doing and to justify it. I do not say that just because British Steel was formerly nationalised because the same argument applies to all major companies such as IBM, Boots, and Glaxo. That responsibility must not be ducked, and so far British Steel has ducked it. I condemn it for that, but thank goodness my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has not ducked his responsibilities.


Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

There is a spirit of consensus in the House but I cannot go totally along with it because of some worrying aspects about the action or inaction of the Secretary of State for Scotland in this matter. In the seven months since last winter the Secretary of State failed to take up with British Steel that which he knew was coming and which he knew would affect Ravenscraig this year. He failed to take up with British Steel the importance of Ravenscraig to the Scottish and the British economy. In reply to a private notice question last week he failed adequately to answer why he had not done that.

Today the Secretary of State for Scotland told us that he had a meeting with British Steel on 3 May at which he made representations. The words used by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) last Thursday will be on the tombstone of the Secretary of State's political grave. My hon. Friend talked about the "missing weeks" and "dead days" during which the Secretary of State's inaction would perhaps be seen as having played a crucial role in the demise of Ravenscraig—if the closure goes ahead.

I listened with pleasure to the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). His was the sort of speech that should have been made by the Secretary of State for Scotland because there is a role for morals in business and public life. I noticed some Conservative heads nodding during the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland of some of his comments along those lines. At a meeting with union leaders on 31 November 1989 the Secretary of State said that he would not regard a routine drop in steel demand as excusing British Steel from its undertaking to him two years ago to keep Ravenscraig open until at least the mid-1990s. He said that he did not see privatisation as having altered his role "in any significant sense". The Secretary of State always had a role in seeing how British Steel operated in Scotland, and especially at Ravenscraig, and privatisation did not alter that role. However, he is now saying that the decision is totally commercial and that that is all there is to it.

He also said in his November meeting with union leaders that his responsibility for the Scottish economy gave him legitimate concern for the actions of major employers in Scotland. I certainly echo that statement because it echoes the speech by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside. In The Scotsman of 30 November 1989—although The Scotsman says that it was on 31 November-the Secretary of State is reported to have said that the normal ups and downs of the market would not be seen by the Government as justifying closure. He said: It was well understood that by 'market conditions' nobody was talking about some dip in the market … The term was clearly meant to refer to some catastrophic fall in demand that could not be contemplated in other circumstances. Where is the justification for British Steel's present stance?

Scottish Labour Members and the work force of British Steel feel that there is an investment bias against Ravenscraig. Hamish Morrison, chief executive of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), said: A ten-year investment famine and the dismal failure to win a significant share of North sea business can give no confidence in a continuing commitment to Scotland by British Steel". The Secretary of State has done nothing to counteract that bias against the Scottish steel industry.

In the past three to five years, the figures show a dramatic increase in steel imports, with a resulting impact on the balance of payments, on employment, and on the British steel industry. What have the Government done to balance that? The outlook for demand shows, particularly in the North sea sector, the possibility of a rise in demand for steel in the mid-1990s. British Steel may contradict that, but its forecasts have not been too accurate.

My hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) and for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) have spoken of the direct effect that closure will have on employment in Lanarkshire. I represent Cambuslang, which has in it the Clydebridge steel plant, which is a sister to the Ravenscraig-Dalzell complex. Clydebridge takes the plate from Dalzell and performs specialised finishing treatment, including quenching and tempering, and is one of only two such facilities in Europe. The Clydebridge works are also unique in having a plasma arc cutter, which cuts the steel without changing its molecular structure and leaves it ready for welding. That is typical of the specialised skill in the Clydebridge plant.

Over the past 15 years, the Cambuslang area has had nothing but dramatic job losses. We have shared with the Glasgow, Shettleston constituency the effects of the closure of the Clyde ironworks and in Cambuslang itself the Hallside steelworks have closed. There have been dramatic reductions in the number of jobs available at Clydebridge itself, and only 150 people work there now. Only this year, the Redpath Dorman Long steel stockholders closed. I used to work in the Hoover factory, which 15 years ago employed 5,800 people, but now employs only 1,000. The Cambuslang area has been devastated. Although it is within the Glasgow boundaries, one feels that it is part of Lanarkshire. A number of its people are employed at Ravenscraig so there will be an effect on them quite apart from the direct consequences of closure on Cydebridge itself.

The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside said that some English Conservative Back Benchers had spoken out against the closure of Ravenscraig. My hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell, North and for Motherwell, South have mentioned my next point, but perhaps it comes more forcibly from someone like me who sees the value of the British state, and who believes that it is unique, and should be kept because it serves the needs of the people. If the closure of Ravenscraig goes ahead, it will signal the beginning of a social move in Scotland away from the desire to remain part of the Union with England and Wales.

I firmly believe in the British state and will always work for it because I believe that we should reduce barriers, not build them. However, Conservative Members should have no illusions about the attitude of Scottish people if this goes ahead. It is up to the Secretary of State to show the Scottish people that there is something to be gained by being part of the Union. He must deliver this to the people of Scotland, not just the people of Ravenscraig, not as a totem and not as a symbol of industrial virility but as a sign that we have a Scottish steel industry as part of a modern industrial society. If he does not, Conservative Members who regard themselves as part of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party will be shown by the pages of history that they have sown the seeds of disunity between Scotland and England.

5.55 pm
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) in expressing my conviction of the benefits of, and my adherence to, the Union, although I might differ from him on the extent to which the Government have delivered in support of that Union. Some of my hon. Friends might feel that we have delivered a great deal too much. However, I do not want to broaden our debate on Ravenscraig.

I should declare an interest as a consultant to the steel division of Glynwed Ltd., which conducts rolling operations. However, I have neither sought from the firm, nor has it given me, any information of relevance to the debate.

I want to explore the concept of a Scottish steel industry, as opposed to a United Kingdom steel industry. I have with me some rather interesting figures about the extent to which Scotland depends on metal manufacture and the metal goods industry, as compared with my region of the west midlands. Whereas 5 per cent. of employment in the west midlands, representing over 102,000 workers, is in metal goods, in Scotland the figures are 1 per cent. and 17,000 workers. In metal manufacture, the figures are 1.6 per cent. and 31,000 workers in the west midlands as opposed to 0.6 per cent. and 11,500 workers in Scotland.

When I add to those figures the fact that output at Ravenscraig is preponderantly directed outside Scotland, I find some difficulty in understanding the concept of a Scottish steel industry as opposed to a United Kingdom steel industry. I accept that steel is a basic industry, but we have a steel industry in the United Kingdom. It is being fortified and modernised, and I rejoice in that. However, I find it difficult to believe in the concept of a uniquely Scottish steel industry serving a Scottish market, in the light of those figures.

I understand that concept less when I reflect that there used to be a uniquely west midlands private steel industry, but it was put out of business when British Steel was subsidised, largely as a result of the Labour party's failure to close the so-called Beswick plants. It wanted to keep a larger capacity than the market could take and was prepared to subsidise ad infinitum. The only result was to put out of business the private steel plants in the west midlands, and eventually to bring British Steel almost to its knees.

I am no apologist for British Steel. I resigned my minor position over the issue of British Steel being subsidised to put private firms out of business. Loud have been my complaints that British Steel has been subsidised—to get more topical—to give unfair assistance to Sheffield Forgemasters as opposed to the private firm of Walter Somers. I am certainly no apologist for British Steel, but it is slightly unfair to continue describing the company as one that operates a monopoly when it has only 60 per cent. of the market.

I would not be adverse to British Steel being asked to put up its Scottish plant for sale, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). That is a splendid idea. If a company wanted to take on that responsibility and felt that it could make better use of British Steel's assets, I would very much support such a development. Nevertheless, I return to the point that the outcome would still not constitute a Scottish steel industry. The operation may be located in Scotland, but certainly its market is not there, for the reasons that I have already given.

I am looking for a level playing field. We in the west midlands do not feel that we have been playing on one. All our expanding industries were directed or redirected to Scotland under the industrial development certificate policy, thus weakening the west midlands' industrial base, with no gain to Scotland.

Scotland still enjoys higher subsidies from central Government. If one examines regional assistance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing to do with it."] Yes, I am going to talk about assistance per head of population. Last year, it totalled £30 per head in Scotland and only £5 per head in the west midlands, despite the fact that household incomes are £4,500 in Scotland compared with £4,000 in the west midlands.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen speaks about the Government delivering on the Union. They are delivering a higher subsidy to the Health Service in Scotland, making a much greater investment in its infrastructure, and providing a higher grant to local authorities in respect of the community charge. I am confident that the Government are more than delivering in maintaining the Union. I am only asking that there should be a more level playing field.

I see no point in trying to save Ravenscraig at the expense of another plant in the United Kingdom. There are no grounds for interfering with the commercial management decision that has been made, and there is no cause for different rules to apply in Scotland than in the rest of the Union.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I call Mr. Jim Sillars.

6.3 pm

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)


Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You would not expect me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to question the Chair's right to call speakers in whichever order it chooses. However, I shall be grateful for your assurance that you will bear in mind the specific constituency interests of right hon. and hon. Members, and the relationship between Gartcosh, which I represent, and the whole Ravenscraig scenario.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I shall certainly bear that and all other factors in mind when calling right hon. and hon. Members to speak.

Mr. Sillars

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) argued that if a country exports most of the products of its industry, it cannot claim ownership of that industry. If one follows the logic of that argument, it must be so that Saudi Arabia does not have an oil industry. Scotland has fishery, whisky and electronics industries, and the bulk of their products are exported. Nevertheless, they are extremely important in strategic terms to the Scottish economy.

Every time that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove rises to his feet in the House, or appears on radio or television, some right hon. and hon. Members welcome his intervention, because he clearly expresses the views that we have held for some time about the value of the so-called United Kingdom.

The view held by the Scottish nationalists, which is shared by the Liberal Democrats, is that we would prefer Scotland to have an independent steel industry. Not everyone here knows that in Scotland—but I exclude certain Conservative Members—the shop stewards in particular have it as a priority to seek to reverse British Steel's decision concerning Ravenscraig. Given the extreme importance of the debate, we bow to that decision on this occasion—always reserving the right to state our position when we consider that it is relevant and necessary to do so.

If I can get the attention of the Secretary of State and of the chairman of the Tory party in Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), I return to the point that I made in an earlier intervention about the need to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs now, with the specific objective of investigating British Steel's decision—particularly given the invitation extended in the Government's amendment for British Steel to explain and defend its decision and to provide information.

The Secretary of State responded to my intervention with a cheap debating point. He said, quite fairly, that Donald Stewart and Gordon Wilson had refused to serve on a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I acknowledge that, and I personally, and my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), regret that they took that action, which we regard as being mistaken at that time. However, they would not have vetoed—nor would they have the power to veto—the setting up of a Scottish Select Committee, yet that is effectively what is being done by Conservative Members.

The Government amendment will be passed tonight because the English legions will be trooped in. The House will then be inviting British Steel——

Ms. Margerie Mowlam (Redcar)

What a silly man.

Mr. Sillars

Does the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) want to intervene?

Ms. Mowlam

No, it was me who was calling the hon. Gentleman a silly man.

Mr. Sillars

Does anyone else wish to intervene? Apparently remarks are being offered only from a sedentary position, so I shall continue.

The Government are asking the House to challenge British Steel to defend its position. To whom will it make that defence? The House does not have a suitable instrument of examination for investigating the company, and we cannot trust the Government. I quote from a letter dated 23 February sent to kin Lawson by the Minister of State, Scottish Office: I welcome Sir Robert Scholey's recent confirmation that the statement which he made in December 1987 concerning the future of the Scottish plant which refers to his statement in the prospectus— still stands and that if there were to be any change in this position in the future, all those concerned would be properly consulted and notified. Earlier this afternoon, the Secretary of State told the House that when he met Sir Robert he did not think that it would have been appropriate for Sir Robert to have told him about matters that the board was about to discuss. How can we trust the Government to engage in a proper examination of British Steel's defence even if it is prepared to advance a defence'

We require instead the resources and authority of a Select Committee, which can call on British Steel witnesses to come before it and be properly examined so that the full facts may be properly ventilated. Anyone who knows about the limited resources available to Opposition parties will be aware that a Select Committee is vital to ensure proper, genuine, detailed examination of what is claimed to be British Steel's position.

It worried me a little that the Secretary of State prayed in aid Tommy Brennan. I join the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) in not entirely going along with the consensus this afternoon. The Secretary of State claimed that Mr. Brennan told him this morning, "It's a commercial, not an emotional, issue." The right hon. and learned Gentleman implied in his interpretation of that remark that Tommy Brennan and the Ravenscraig workers are pushing aside all other considerations except British Steel's definition of what is commercial. I believe that the Secretary of State misinterpreted Tommy Brennan's remarks to him this morning.

I certainly cannot agree with the argument that the closure can be judged only on the commercial decisions as defined by British Steel. It will narrowly define what it regards as commercial criteria. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who says that the market should decide. Has he never heard of a rigged market, particularly for an organisation that has almost monopoly production? British Steel's long-term aim is to get rid of its Scottish operations and to utilise some assets by selling them second hand in parts of the international community, thus eliminating any possibility of competition from north of the border.

Mr. Bill Walker


Mr. Sillars

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman; he has intervened several times. We are talking about an organisation that can rig the market.

I was delighted to hear the speech made by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who properly lectured the Government about community responsibility. Let us take the national interest into account and measure it against British Steel's narrow definition of what is commercial. Let us take the closure of Gartcosh, which it told us was commercially unviable because it was a long distance from markets in the United Kingdom. Gartcosh's production amounted to 500,000 tonnes a year. Last year, British Steel imported 10 times as much from places further from the United Kingdom market than Lanarkshire.

This afternoon, we are joining everyone in demanding a reversal. We should all acknowledge that we face formidable obstacles. British Steel is a private company. It can claim that in law, as distinct from morality, it is responsible only to its shareholders. It is a cash-rich private company. The WBS Phillips and Drew assessment says: The balance sheet is outstandingly strong with net cash of an estimated £180 million after allowing for the Walker acquisition plus investments worth considerably more than the £489 million book value. There is no danger of British Steel having to approach the Government or another external organisation.

British Steel's market strategy has been clear from its investment strategy. In the current capital programme, not a brown penny has been earmarked for Scottish plants. Its biggest shareholders are impersonal institutions; 59.45 per cent. of its shares are held by nominees, the umbrella cover for institutional shareholders; 61 per cent. own over 1 million shares each. We are talking about people who are not terribly responsive to the arguments that we advance on behalf of the community. The Walker purchase gave British Steel the ability to buy in and fill gaps in the market if it makes a mistake in production.

I want to turn the attention of the House, particularly of Opposition Members, to the problem of the atmosphere in which British Steel will respond to our arguments. If Scholey, the board and its shareholders lived in Scotland there would be no problem in mobilising pressure against them. Every time they stepped out the house or the car, they would wince at the public agitation, but they live in an entirely different part of the United Kingdom. While many of us objected to the tone of the Evening Standard leader last week, it simply popularised what the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Times had been saying. We will be appealing to a hostile board, and probably hostile institutional shareholders, living in an atmosphere hostile to the Scottish people.

How do we achieve the mechanism necessary to start shifting the board of British Steel? It can be done only by political power that carries a real threat to British Steel. I must confess that the role of the Labour party is absolutely crucial. British Steel is extremely nervous about a Labour Government. Page 43 of British Steel's prospectus says: The policies of opposition parties are the responsibility of the parties concerned. The Labour Party's 1987 manifesto set out the Party's policy for social ownership … Mr. Bryan Gould, Labour Party spokesman on Trade and Industry, stated during the Parliamentary passage of the British Steel Act 1988 that 'Opposition Members and the trade union movement strongly believe that the steel industry is most appropriately owned in a form of public ownership. We shall decide that form and the order of priorities by which it is to be secured when we return to power"'.—[Official Report 23 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 184.] Labour Members tell us, and they may be right, that the Labour party will form the next Government after the next election, which could be next year.

Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie (Glasgow, Pollok)

The hon. Gentleman was right the first time.

Mr. Sillars

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride)

The hon. Gentleman wants the Tories to win.

Mr. Sillars

No. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. For a range of machiavellian reasons I would like to see a Labour Government, but we are seeking unity so we will set that aside.

Let us concentrate on the Labour party's claims and its motion before the House, which says that "everything possible" must be done. There could be an election at exactly the same time as British Steel is saying that it will close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said that the Labour party would give it the appropriate priority. Is not this an appropriate priority for public ownership? If British Steel rejects the good commercial case put by the shop stewards and the people of Scotland—it will do so only out of spite—and if the Labour party, whose policy review comes out on Thursday, said "Let British Steel be under no illusions. If it goes ahead with its plans to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig it will be taken into public ownership by a Labour Government when it is elected next year", that would have a dramatic impact on the board of British Steel. It is the socialist answer that the working people of Scotland expect in reply to the consequences of Thatcherism.

6.17 pm
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I am delighted, as an Englishman with a steel works in his constituency, to be able to take part in this United Kingdom debate. I have been trying for the life of me to work out why so many Scots get themselves worked up into such a lather about this issue.

History shows that we are talking about a steel mill that is 27 years and 20 days old. It has not been going since Adam was a boy. The steelworks has been going since before the first world war, but the strip mill was introduced on 1 May 1963. It is not a longstanding mill about which passions will be roused because it has been in operation for a long time. It was constructed for the wrong reasons. It was brought in by Harold Macmillan's Government. They believed in the possible need for additional steel mill capacity. The experts said that there should be one new strip mill, in south Wales. The Macmillan Government decided to have two—one in south Wales and the other in Scotland, which was later named Ravenscraig—to provide employment.

That was not a commercial but an employment decision and it is on record: The main concern of the layman is where these plants are to be located. The decision of the Iron and Steel Board and the acceptance by the companies … was that it would be a good plan to have these two installations, both capable of considerable expansion. That has made it possible to make a solution which, while no doubt not acceptable to everybody, seems a fair and reasonable solution of the rather difficult location problem. Ravenscraig was to produce 500,000 tonnes of steel——

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Nissan is in the hon. Gentleman's patch.

Mr. Holt

The Nissan plant represents diversification from the shipbuilding industry which is being replaced in the north-east of England. That good development is bringing many jobs to the area.

Harold Macmillan said: That was the point put to me by Scottish hon. Members and others who came to see me. All that is very much better than if we had located the whole plant in Wales."—[Official Report, 18 November 1958; Vol. 595, c. 1017–9.] The Government, under the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and the President of the Board of Trade, Sir David Eccles, made those decisions to create employment.

What about Colvilles? Its forebodings in 1962 were correct. It was practically ruined because it had undertaken a project that it thought was unwise. Colvilles almost went into bankruptcy and had to be bailed out in that preliminary construction period before it made any money.

This all comes back to a commercial decision by the board of British Steel, which says, "This is the international and European market for steel." The board does not say that everything north of Hadrian's wall is inviolate and cannot be touched by the people who are charged with the responsibility for that industry. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) has come into the Chamber to hear me speak, because she was here for the rest of the debate. The redundancies in my area far exceed the 770 people who will be made redundant under the Ravenscraig proposals. People in my area have overcome that difficulty. There is a booming economy again on Teesside, brought about by the district council and other people. Just last week Derwentside council made an announcement about Consett, another strip mill which was closed with the loss of many jobs and without all the synthetic nonsense——

Ms. Mowlam

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Holt

I shall not give way because of the time.

Ms. Mowlam

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Holt

I shall not give way. If the hon. Lady had been here for the whole debate, as I have been, I should happily give way.

Ms. Mowlam

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been in and out of the Chamber over the past hour and a half. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) did not have his glasses on, so he might not have seen me. I should like to set the record straight. If I have not just been listening to the hon. Gentleman, I have nevertheless enjoyed contributions of a much higher calibre and quality than the one to which we are listening.

Mr. Holt

Over the past hour and a half, the hon. Lady has been out more than she has been in. That is obvious to anyone who has looked at the Chamber.

What is the debate about? It is about whether pressure should be brought to bear on the board of British Steel to change its mind about its decision. What will happen if the campaign is successful and British Steel has to change that decision? One of two things will happen: somewhere else will have to suffer—it could be my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Redcar—or we will be left with a lame dog board for British Steel. The board would never be able to make any decision because it would be afraid of a repetition of the hoo-hah by Scottish Members. We are over-represented by Scottish Members in this place. Any matter that relates to Scotland immediately results in the nonsense to which we listen in these debates.

Last week it was announced that there would be a modern, clean industrial and leisure development at Consett which will employ 1,300 people in jobs that are not related to the steel industry and are not historic but futuristic. We should look forward to such developments. [Interruption.] Some Labour Members are looking at the clock and saying that I should get on. I remind them that I sat here the other night through an entire debate on the development of the Clyde port in relation to Tees and Hartlepool harbours. One hon. Member spoke for an hour and five minutes and Conservative Members could not speak. I make no apology, therefore, for taking my full time in contributing. The more the Opposition shout and scream, the more likely it is that I shall continue.

It is interesting that no Labour Member from an English or Welsh constituency has spoken. By definition, such Members must have an interest in British Steel's future and the viability of jobs in their areas. This has been a narrow debate when we should have debated many more matters involving British Steel. Apart from one or two Opposition Members, I do not think that the Opposition have bothered to look at what there is at Ravenscraig. I know that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) knows about it and I was pleased to hear him make a speech about the technical side.

The Opposition have criticised the board of British Steel left, right and centre, but the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) let the cat out of the bag when he said that it was awash with cash and was profitable and well run. This profitable, well-run organisation cost the taxpayer millions of pounds a year at one time. It now wants to expand and diversify in Germany by buying German steel plants so that the industry operates in a wider European context. Yet they talk about a 27-year-old plant as though it was the heart and soul of Scotland. It is not; it is a steel works like any other which must stand or fall like any other. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Scotland?"] The debate is about steel, not about Scotland. If we want a debate about Scotland, let us have a debate about Scotland's over-representation in this place. Scotland has far too many Members of Parliament for that country's population and English Members are forced, by definition, to represent a great many more people than their Scottish counterparts.

It is because I represent people who work in, and depend upon, steel works that I am pleased to have been able to contribute. It is a pity that no other hon. Member from a constituency south of the border with steel works located in it has taken the trouble to contribute. A great deal of the resentment that has been expressed is synthetic and much of what has been said is no more than political posturing. I do not believe for one moment that British Steel would in any circumstances be justified in changing the decision that it has properly made.

6.30 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the priorities outlined by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), it does not surprise me that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) reminded me, 43,000 jobs on Teesside have been lost in the past 10 years. It should not surprise the hon. Gentleman that Opposition Members regard the decision as an extremely serious matter and an important event in the history of Scotland. The House should address itself once more to the serious problems that the people of Lanarkshire, and of Scotland more generally, face which they expect us, in turn, to face.

Earlier this afternoon I referred to the relevance of Gartcosh. It is appropriate to contrast the sacrifice of Gartcosh with the presence and excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who personifies all that is best in Lanarkshire. His presence was a sign of the commitment that we have seen in the Lanarkshire steel industry—in Ravenscraig as well as Gartcosh—and the industry's achievements, which are there for all to see, should not be lightly dismissed. When the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs considered Gartcosh in 1985–86, most of us gave a warning that if, on the basis of commercial judgments such as those urged upon us in respect of Ravenscraig this afternoon, British Steel continued in its determination, it would weaken the prospects of Ravenscraig. Clearly that has happened. The decision need not and should not be fatal.

But even in the non-partisan spirit of this debate, I must tell the Secretary of State that it is not enough for him to tell us the limited amount that we have been told and to feel that, on the basis of his and his ministerial colleagues' records, they will not be called to account. We can fight, as we will fight, for a future for Ravenscraig and reserve the right to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has not even bothered to be here this afternoon, the Prime Minister and the rest of the Government why the priorities of the men and women of Ravenscraig and their brave commitment to the industry have not been reflected in Government policy.

The Secretary of State told us a little more than we heard last week. He told us about the fateful meeting on local election day, 3 May. But what happened during the preceding months? Around Christmas time, some of us asked the Prime Minister and, a week later, the Secretary of State for Scotland, what the Government intended to do in view of the rumours that we were hearing. We asked whether the Government would use their influence. Even then, some of us pleaded with the Government to think about using their golden share, and we were told that the Government could not use their golden share because they had placed restrictions on its use. The Secretary of State quoted Tommy Brennan, and Tommy knows that we support him and his first-class trade union colleagues to the hilt. But the Secretary of State cannot be selective. Tommy Brennan did not campaign for privatisation and, when privatisation was achieved, Tommy Brennan did not advocate that no recognition should he given to the Scottish factors. That was in contrast to what happened in the electricity industry.

Dr. Reid


Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) rightly reminds us that he did not campaign for the closure of Gartcosh. The Government cannot merely go ahead with their policies and then say, "What a surprise; British Steel has told us that it is getting rid of the jobs because of commercial factors but it will not give us the reasons." I have to tell the Secretary of State that the whole thing comes as no surprise to me. There is no legislative obligation on British Steel, although it has a huge moral obligation—to which, so far, it has not responded.

I hoped that, despite the errors of the past, and although the Secretary of State seems forlorn, alone and unsupported by most of his Cabinet colleagues, the House will decide that there is a case for fighting for the Ravenscraig plant and the future of the industry because of considerations connected with productivity, economic strategy and the experience and achievements of the work force.

If that happens, we must begin by agreeing not to rewrite history. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) repeated an argument that we have seen advanced in the popular press, in England especially, which is no doubt inspired by Mr. Ingham and the advisers at No. 10. We are told that Harold Macmillan got it all wrong and that he is to be bad-mouthed. I do not recall as a youngster being a great fan of Harold Macmillan, but as a result of his decision hundreds of thousands of families in Lanarkshire and Llanwern achieved a measure of prosperity that this Government have failed to deliver. It is right that the wealth of a nation should be fairly shared throughout that nation and that productivity should be based on a sound economy in which the need for investment and a regional strategy is recognised. Harold Macmillan at least had the wisdom to see that. We need proper training opportunities to ensure that our young people in particular are given the right to work and the right to a future. Given the opportunities that we have been told are offered in Europe, why is the steel industry in Scotland and in other parts of Britain facing the problems of which we have heard this afternoon? The truth is that the Government's policies have created divisions.

Ravenscraig has shown a record commitment to production. I have heard no complaints this afternoon about profits, if they alone are to provide the motive. The work force at Ravenscraig has been shamefully abandoned because of the decision of a ruthless private monopoly. I am not in favour of giving a private or public monopoly that kind of power or influence over people's lives. There should be accountability. We should not leave those matters and the quality of people's lives to market forces alone. With proper investment and planning and a proper strategy for the steel industry, there is a future for Ravenscraig and for Scottish steel. I hope that the House will accept that view.

I do not believe that tonight's debate will be the end of the matter. In time, the Scottish and British people 'will decide. In time, they will reject influences which represent the arrogance of intellect and the brutality of power and which history will judge to our shame.

6.40 pm
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I begin by paying a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray). We all understand why he cannot be in the Chamber for the winding-up speeches. He made a brave and thoughtful speech which showed that he knows a great deal about the steel industry. His speech also showed the enormous strength of his commitment to his constituents, to the Ravenscraig steelworks and to the Scottish steel industry as a whole. The expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South has been recognised on the Opposition Benches for a long time. It is a pity that the Government failed to listen to him because if they had done so they would not be in this mess today.

My colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South, have spelt out a logical, economic and commercial case for the retention of the Ravenscraig strip mill. There have been no emotional appeals about unemployment and the social consequences for the Lanarkshire area. I live in Hamilton and I know what the economic and social consequences will be. None of my colleagues made that appeal. We have argued the economic and commercial case instead. Conservative Back-Benchers from Scotland also made a clear logical case. They argued strongly for the retention of the mill. It was regrettable that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), in his highly intemperate speech, attacked his hon. Friends as much as he was attacking my colleagues.

Over the weekend I read many press reports stating that the Secretary of State for Scotland was at one with his Cabinet colleagues on the issue. Having listened to the Secretary of State today and having read the amendment to our motion, I must agree with the reports. The Secretary of State has sold out to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Last week, with regard to the closure, the Secretary of State said: 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 … we shall seek to persuade British Steel to reconsider its proposal in the interests both of the company and of its work force. In response to a question from my hon. Friend he Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), he said: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the desirability of doing that which can be done to reverse the decision.''—[Official Report, 16 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 887–88.] The Government's amendment to our motion does not contain those sentiments. It contains no reference to persuading the company to change its mind. The amendment contains no reference to the Government doing everything that they can to reverse the decision. The only thing that the amendment invites British Steel to do is to explain and defend its decision; It does nothing more than that. The only reference to "deplores" is in connection with any attempt to extract political capital from this event". I agree with the Secretary of State about that. The only person who has been trying to extract political capital from the proposal is the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has been playing both ends against the middle. He is trying to appear as the saviour of the Scottish steel industry while in Cabinet he caves in. He is trying to be everything to everybody and he fails to be anything to anyone.

The Secretary of State asked whether we should allow decisions to be taken on the commercial judgment of British Steel. I do not disagree with that. But that is not the only criterion that we should consider. We should also consider the economic and social consequences of the closure. However, let us consider the commercial aspect. Ravenscraig is profitable and its productivity is high. It continues to break its own records and the plant is at least as good as any in Europe. The work force is superb and its products are an essential part at present of the British Steel range, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South explained. There is an increasing need for steel products in the United Kingdom for car production and for the North sea.

Given those commercial considerations, what considerations can British Steel place against them? If British Steel can put up commercial considerations against the case that we have made logically and sensibly today—a case that I hope the Secretary of State will put logically and sensibly to British Steel—and British Steel says that it does not accept our argument, what will the Secretary of State do about that? It was clear from the Secretary of State's speech today that he is going to do absolutely nothing.

Mr. Rifkind

What would the hon. Gentleman do?

Mr. Maxton

If the Secretary of State would for once take the debate seriously and listen, he might receive answers to his questions. He is the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is responsible and he has the power. He must use all his power and influence to stop the closure.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maxton

It was the Secretary of State who privatised the industry and he refused to include the golden share that some of us proposed in Committee which would have stopped this exercise. The Secretary of State cannot escape his responsibility.

Does the Secretary of State have a series of meetings arranged with Bob Scholey to ensure that——

Mr. Riddick

Give way.

Mr. Maxton

I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Riddick


Mr. Maxton

Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you throw the hon. Gentleman out if he cannot sit down?

Will the Secretary of State at least tell us whether he will have some meetings? Has he prepared a detailed case for Ravenscraig to put to British Steel? The Secretary of State has economic and financial leverage. Has it been made clear to British Steel that its actions are unacceptable to the Government? Will he take up the point made by Hamish Morrison? Will he refer British Steel to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Will he give whatever help he can within the terms of the European Community to assist British Steel, if it feels that it needs help over a short period to retain Ravenscraig? For example, will the Secretary of State take up the proposal on thin slab casting made by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South? That was a clear and definite proposal which, if taken up, would require Government financing to fulfil it. Will the Secretary of State investigate that option?

If British Steel refuses to change its mind under all the pressure, will the Scottish Office finance a full examination of the future of steel in Britain and in Scotland? Will it insist that British Steel makes its Scottish plants available for sale immediately so that if there is a possibility of a Scottish—or another British—steel industry it must be available as a going concern, not as a rundown industry that no one would want. Will the Scottish Office finance a feasibility study on the Scottish steel industry? Will it work actively to form a consortium in Scotland to purchase and run Scottish plants if necessary?

Those are some practical questions, and the Minister of State has a responsibility to answer them. He is the last chance for the Secretary of State to have any of his credibility in Scotland restored. The Minister of State has a responsibility to tell the Scottish people what he will do to save the Scottish steel industry. If the Minister of State can give no answers to those questions, the people of Scotland will pass their judgment upon him.

6.50 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang)

I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) in welcoming the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) back to the House after his illness. His personal commitment to his constituents was well illustrated by his presence today. I am sure that the whole House will wish him a continued and complete recovery from his illness.

However, the hon. Member for Motherwell, South must have been disappointed by the tone and content of the debate. Apart from his informed contribution, to a large extent it was coloured by political point scoring and nit picking, which is not in the best interests of the Ravenscraig work force. There was a notable, lamentable absence of contributions from Opposition Members of any indication underneath their high-flown rhetoric of what specific steps the Labour party would take to change British Steel's attitude. Just what would the Opposition do?

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) asked about the golden share. He knows that that is not relevant to this issue. It carries no voting rights. Its purpose is to prevent a holding in the company from reaching 15 per cent. or more, and thus it is designed until 1993 to prevent hostile takeovers. The hon. Members for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) and for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) referred to competition and a possible reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

It is for anyone affected by or with an interest in this issue to raise the matter with the Director General of Fair Trading or with the European Community authorities as appropriate. I would not seek to dissuade anyone from bringing it to the attention of the appropriate authorities. It is not a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State; it would be for the Director General of Fair Trading and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to determine.

I have no doubt at all that our general approach to industry is correct in creating an enterprise economy. We have seen that demonstrated in Scotland, where we now have higher manufacturing output and higher employment than ever before, even when manufacturing employment has risen in the past two years by 16,000, and that is on a broader-based and more diversified economy, with tens of thousands of jobs in new industries as a result of inward investment. But conditions change. We are right to press this matter with British Steel, because it was wrong before and it could be wrong again. Market conditions and operational conditions can change. We are right to test British Steel on this decision.

I inform my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and readers of the London Evening Standard that Scotland is a small country with a population of about one tenth that of England. Although steel is no longer vital to the Scottish economy, contributing only about 2.5 per cent. of manufacturing output, and although unemployment in Lanarkshire has almost halved in the past three years to stand at under 11 per cent. it would still have a big impact if all the remaining thousands of steel jobs in Lanarkshire were to disappear following the decision on 770 jobs now. I would not dissent from those who argue that that consequence could flow from this announcement. Of course, they would also take too many other jobs in other industries dependent on the steel industry. We have a duty to involve ourselves.

I am not proposing that we should take new powers or seek to inject cash into the industry, which would be in breach of the treaty of Paris, nor that we should change our policy. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are strong supporters of privatisation. Indeed, I had the privilege of steering the steel and electricity legislation through their respective Committee stages. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I firmly support the hands-off approach of allowing industry to take decisions on commercial grounds. That approach is now transforming Scotland's economy.

Mr. Dewar

I have a one-line question for the Minister of State. He has not said what he will do to bring about what I understand to be the ministerial team's desired result, and that is a change of mind by British Steel. Will he now be explicit?

Mr. Lang

If the hon. Gentleman had not intervened, he would have found that he did not need to. I intend to refer to that matter.

When a decision to close a key industry, possibly leading to the disappearance of a whole industry in Scotland, without warning, consultation or adequate explanation takes place, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has a positive duty to involve himself. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has returned from the far east, where he has been seeking to persuade companies there in their commercial interest to locate in the United Kingdom. Some time ago his Department succeeded in persuading Nissan that it was in its commercial interest to locate in the north-east of England, assisted by about £125 million of regional assistance. I am delighted for the north-east of England that that success took place.

I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove that the regional assistance policy that so helped Nissan to locate in the north-east of England is the same regional assistance policy, subject to the same objective criteria, that applies throughout the United Kingdom.

Although I support market forces and a free market economy, I do not believe that that should be an excuse for an abrogation of duty or for total inertia. The Secretary of State has a duty to question, challenge, test, explore and probe a major industrial decision such as this. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland were right to speak out as they did last week.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Will the Minister of State give way?

Mr. Lang

I shall not give way; I am short of time.

A range of commercial issues should be explored with the company. For example, we should probe the proposal to reduce capacity while, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) pointed out, imports are rising, with all the implications that that has for the balance of payments.

There is the single plate mill strategy for Dalzell, on which a Glasgow university paper was prepared and submitted to British Steel and on which the Scottish Office's own paper has also been prepared and submitted. We should discuss with British Steel the implications for Ravenscraig as a whole, and the work that is being commissioned by Motherwell district council will also be valuable in making the case for investment and in considering the development of the steel-using infrastructure of the area. There is the possibility of a welded pipe mill, as proposed by the unions at Dalzell, which would also have the effect of reducing imports. There is also the possible disposal of Ravenscraig to another owner, on which we should press for detail and commitment and thus create the competition that is so dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars).

At worst, we should seek a better explanation from British Steel of its reasons for closure—an explanation to us and to the work force at Ravenscraig. There is also the contingency work to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred on assistance for the area in the same way as assistance was brought to Merseyside, Sunderland and Inverclyde—including, one would hope, help from the British steel industry.

The motion shows little of the real will that is necessary to establish unity of purpose of the kind for which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State called. It seems that Opposition Members have learnt nothing about the steel industry from the debacle of their 10 years of office in the 1970s. The motion calls on the Government to do "everything possible to reverse" the closure, but what on earth does that mean? The Opposition have had the opportunity, but they have not spelt that out in the debate.

Does it mean more cash from the taxpayer? In the decade from 1975, about £14,340 million at today's prices was put into the steel industry. In 1979–80, the taxpayer had to subsidise a loss of £1.8 billion—£5 million a day—and that did not secure efficiency. All it did was subsidise overmanning and inefficiency. BSC's output was at the bottom of the league when we came to office. Anyway, a cash injection would be a breach of the treaty of Paris, and the Labour party knows it.

As the hon. Member for Govan and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) asked, does it mean that the Opposition propose to bring back nationalisation under the guise of the weasel words of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)? Again, we waited in vain for an answer.

I remind the House that nationalisation ripped the heart out of the Scottish steel industry in the first place. It destroyed an independent, self-contained Scottish steel industry. It transferred control to London and turned the steel industry into an irreversible monopoly—so scrambled did its structure become that it could not be disentangled on privatisation. It left Scotland at the end of a branch line in each product division. That is what has led us to the parlous condition of that Scottish industry today. Nor did nationalisation save a single job. Under nationalised control, since 1974, 12,500 jobs were lost and 14 or 15 plants were closed in Scotland, several by Labour Governments, including steelmaking at Glengarnock.

Nationalisation would solve nothing and the Opposition have failed in their duty to spell out to the House whether that is the disastrous plan that they would now propose. Or do they plan some kind of updated yuppified nationalisation under the terms "social ownership" or "social control", taking powers to control, compel and direct, and grinding out enterprise in the way that so damaged the economy?

At the heart of the Labour party's rhetoric is a vacuum. The Opposition motion offers a blank page, with a blank cheque attached. That is insupportable to any responsible body or individual. What is needed is a realistic, responsible and positive approach, such as was offered this morning when my right hon. and learned Friend and I met the trade union shop stewards, and such as that taken at the weekend by the Committee for the Defence of the Steel Industry in Scotland and such as is embodied in the Government amendment.

We and they recognise that British Steel's decisions are and must continue to be for British Steel to take, based on its commercial judgment. There can be no question of a law-breaking subsidy or of seeking, beyond the powers that we have, to direct decisions. However, we have a duty to press British Steel to explain its reasons; to urge it to take its Scottish work force into its confidence and to give it the facts; to question its broader intention; and to challenge it to defend such an important and irreversible decision, with all that it could mean for the future of the Scottish steel industry.

It is in that spirit that I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion and support the Government amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 301.

Division No. 217] [7.01 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Armstrong, Hilary
Allen, Graham Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Alton, David Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Barron, Kevin Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Beckett, Margaret Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Beith, A. J. Illsley, Eric
Bell, Stuart Ingram, Adam
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Janner, Greville
Bidwell, Sydney Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Blair, Tony Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Boateng, Paul Kennedy, Charles
Bradley, Keith Kilfedder, James
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Kirkwood, Archy
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Lambie, David
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Buchan, Norman Lewis, Terry
Buckley, George J. Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Caborn, Richard Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Callaghan, Jim Loyden, Eddie
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) McAllion, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McAvoy, Thomas
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Macdonald, Calum A.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McFall, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Clay, Bob McLeish, Henry
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McWilliam, John
Cohen, Harry Madden, Max
Coleman, Donald Marion, Mrs Alice
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Marek, Dr John
Corbett, Robin Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Corbyn, Jeremy Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cousins, Jim Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Cox, Tom Martlew, Eric
Crowther, Stan Maxton, John
Cryer, Bob Meale, Alan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Michael, Alun
Cunningham, Dr John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dalyell, Tam Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Darling, Alistair Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Morgan, Rhodri
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dewar, Donald Mowlam, Marjorie
Dixon, Don Mullin, Chris
Dobson, Frank Murphy, Paul
Douglas, Dick Nellist, Dave
Dunnachie, Jimmy Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Evans, John (St Helens N) O'Neill, Martin
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Faulds, Andrew Patchett, Terry
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Quin, Ms Joyce
Fisher, Mark Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Flannery, Martin Reid, Dr John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Richardson, Jo
Foster, Derek Robinson, Geoffrey
Foulkes, George Rooker, Jeff
Fraser, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Fyfe, Maria Rowlands, Ted
Galbraith, Sam Sedgemore, Brian
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Sheerman, Barry
George, Bruce Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Godman, Dr Norman A. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Golding, Mrs Llin Short, Clare
Gould, Bryan Sillars, Jim
Graham, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Grocott, Bruce Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hardy, Peter Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Harman, Ms Harriet Spearing, Nigel
Haynes, Frank Steinberg, Gerry
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Strang, Gavin
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Henderson, Doug Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Home Robertson, John Vaz, Keith
Hood, Jimmy Wallace, James
Howells, Geraint Walley, Joan
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Worthington, Tony
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N) Wray, Jimmy
Wigley, Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then) Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Martyn Jones.
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Adley, Robert Dicks, Terry
Aitken, Jonathan Dorrell, Stephen
Alexander, Richard Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dover, Den
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Dunn, Bob
Amess, David Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Amos, Alan Evennett, David
Arbuthnot, James Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fallon, Michael
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Favell, Tony
Ashby, David Fenner, Dame Peggy
Aspinwall, Jack Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Atkins, Robert Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Fishburn, John Dudley
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fookes, Dame Janet
Baldry, Tony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Forth, Eric
Batiste, Spencer Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fox, Sir Marcus
Bendall, Vivian Franks, Cecil
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Freeman, Roger
Bevan, David Gilroy French, Douglas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fry, Peter
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gale, Roger
Body, Sir Richard Gardiner, George
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gill, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bowis, John Gorst, John
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gow, Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Green way, Harry (Ealing N)
Brazier, Julian Ground, Patrick
Bright, Graham Grylls, Michael
Browne, John (Winchester) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hague, William
Buck, Sir Antony Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Budgen, Nicholas Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Burns, Simon Hanley, Jeremy
Burt, Alistair Hannam, John
Butler, Chris Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Butterfill, John Harris, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Haselhurst, Alan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hawkins, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Carttiss, Michael Hayward, Robert
Cartwright, John Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cash, William Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Chapman, Sydney Hill, James
Chope, Christopher Hind, Kenneth
Churchill, Mr Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Colvin, Michael Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Conway, Derek Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cormack, Patrick Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Couchman, James Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Cran, James Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Critchley, Julian Irvine, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Irving, Sir Charles
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Janman, Tim
Devlin, Tim Jessel, Toby
Dickens, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rathbone, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Rhodes James, Robert
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Riddick, Graham
Kirkhope, Timothy Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knapman, Roger Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Knowles, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knox, David Roe, Mrs Marion
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rowe, Andrew
Lang, Ian Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Latham, Michael Ryder, Richard
Lawrence, Ivan Sackville, Hon Tom
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lee, John (Pendle) Sayeed, Jonathan
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shelton, Sir William
Lightbown, David Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lilley, Peter Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shersby, Michael
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sims, Roger
Lord, Michael Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McCrindle, Robert Speed, Keith
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speller, Tony
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Squire, Robin
Maclean, David Stanbrook, Ivor
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Steen, Anthony
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stern, Michael
Madel, David Stevens, Lewis
Major, Rt Hon John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Malins, Humfrey Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mans, Keith Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Maples, John Stokes, Sir John
Marlow, Tony Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Summerson, Hugo
Maude, Hon Francis Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miller, Sir Hal Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mills, Iain Temple-Morris, Peter
Miscampbell, Norman Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mitchell, Sir David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thorne, Neil
Moore, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Morrison, Sir Charles Tracey, Richard
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Tredinnick, David
Moss, Malcolm Trippier, David
Moynihan, Hon Colin Twinn, Dr Ian
Nelson, Anthony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Neubert, Michael Viggers, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Waddington, Rt Hon David
Nicholls, Patrick Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Walden, George
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Norris, Steve Waller, Gary
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Ward, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Watts, John
Page, Richard Wells, Bowen
Paice, James Wheeler, Sir John
Patnick, Irvine Whitney, Ray
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Widdecombe, Ann
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wiggin, Jerry
Pawsey, James Wilkinson, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wilshire, David
Porter, David (Waveney) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Portillo, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Price, Sir David Wolfson, Mark
Raffan, Keith Wood, Timothy
Woodcrock, Dr. Mike Tellers for the Noes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. Alastair Goodlad and Mr. Tony Durant.
Young, Sir George(Acton)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House recognises that British Steel's investment and operational decisions are a matter for the commercial judgement of the company; nevertheless expresses its concern about the potential employment consequences of the company's decision to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig; recognises the considerable productivity achievements of the Ravenscraig workforce; invites British Steel to explain and defend its decision; and deplores any attempt to extract political capital from this event rather than offering any constructive solutions.