HC Deb 17 August 1991 vol 195 cc347-9
10. Mr. Salmond

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent meetings he has had with the chairman of British Steel to discuss investment in Scottish plants.

Mr. Lang

I last met the chairman of British Steel on 4 June this year.

Mr. Salmond

Now that the Secretary of State for Scotland has finally come out to play on this question after dodging his responsibilities for the last two weeks, will he confirm the contents of the Scottish Office briefing note, which I have in my hand, which says that he was briefed to go to a meeting on 4 June, knowing of the anticipated closure of the Dalzell plate mill, and to say, in response to the chairman of British Steel, that it was entirely a matter for him, subject to competition law? All that was simultaneous with the Prime Minister's letter of support to the Dalzell shop stewards. How does the Secretary of State for Scotland reconcile that public posture of support with the private reality of sell out?

Mr. Lang

Over the last two weeks the hon. Gentleman has repeatedly and authoritatively attributed to me words that I did not use and has based upon them a number of deeply offensive remarks. I have now ascertained that the words that the hon. Gentleman has attributed to me derive from a briefing for another Minister. The other Minister is a Minister in another Department. The words in question were not said by that Minister. The briefing in question was not submitted to that Minister. The meeting for which that briefing was prepared did not take place. I believe that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) must have known that that was so. Therefore, he now stands exposed, caught out in a cheap and contemptible ruse. He was wrong about the briefing; he was wrong about the meeting; he was wrong about the Minister; he was wrong about the Department. I invite him to withdraw all the contemptible and unfounded allegations that he has made and to apologise.

Dr. Bray

Is the Secretary of State aware that British Steel's plate mill strategy was to reject the cheaper option of developing the Dalzell works? Nevertheless, there are a few months during which British Steel will try to find the additional £300 million that is required for a new plate mill on Teesside before any contracts are placed. Will he therefore keep up the maximum pressure on British Steel, during the few months in which he will remain a member of the Government, to make sure that the cheaper and more effective option of developing the Dalzell works is fully considered? Will he extend his representations beyond the obviously lame duck chairman of British Steel, who only has a few months to go? Will he approach immediately the management of British Steel and discuss the issue?

Mr. Lang

I do not know how right the hon. Gentleman is about the longevity of the chairman of British Steel's tenure of office, but he does not sound very confident about the likelihood of his own party's coming to office. He knows that British Steel will continue to need the products of Dalzell, subject to market conditions, for several years. It is likely that British Steel will continue to need the products of Dalzell beyond the present guarantee period—to the end of 1994. The hon. Gentleman also knows how hard my predecessor and I, and other Ministers in my Department, have sought to persuade British Steel of the desirability of locating their single plate mill at Dalzell. Furthermore, he knows that if any additional opportunities arise for us to put that case in an effective, successful and positive way, we shall take them.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Secretary of State note that we are not interested in the endless pursuit of the unimportant, where the only aim appears to be to secure party political points at the expense of the industry? The Opposition expect him to continue to put every pressure that he can upon British Steel to reconsider its decision that the Scottish industry is not worthy of investment. We believe —and I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland believes—that there is a very strong case for investment in Dalzell and Ravenscraig. In those circumstances, the Government should not throw in the towel and withdraw from the fight.

May I also ask the Secretary of State to exert constant pressure regarding the offering for sale of redundant plant —redundant from the point of view of British Steel? He told the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that there had been expressions of interest in that plant. It would be a complete tragedy if people who might be interested in buying it were unable to pursue that interest.

Finally, does the Secretary of State accept that we are particularly interested that there should be a decent, realistic and practical package to help the Lanarkshire economy to recover from its present troubles? The existing offer, totalling £29 million, does not meet that description.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) which also answers his first point. As for the future of Lanarkshire, the hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Lanarkshire working group produced a series of proposals to be developed over a period of years. We have already made substantial resources available sufficient to cover the immediate needs for the development of the working group's proposals. We have given an undertaking that Lanarkshire will feature highly in our priorities in the public expenditure round for the next financial year. I share the hon. Gentleman's wish for Lanarkshire's economy to be regenerated. It has already made considerable strides in the past few years towards diversification and a strengthening of its economic base. I should like that to continue and I have no doubt that the best chance for it to do so will be the return of a Conservative Government.

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