§ Mr. Lang
British Steel's decision to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig and the Clydesdale tube works was taken by its board on commercial grounds. It is not a matter for the Government, who have no direct 277 responsibility. My concern is to ensure that the economy of Lanarkshire and the rest of Scotland is in as healthy a state as can be achieved, and it is to that that I am bending my efforts.
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman knows better than most that those assets are not mine to sell and I am not responsible for selling them. Nor is British Steel in such a dominant position as Opposition Members imply, when only some 17 per cent. of the capacity available to British Steel users is in the hands of British Steel.
§ Mr. Dewar
The exchanges that we have just heard suggest that the Secretary of State has given up the fight entirely. Is it still his position that the Government are challenging and attempting to reverse the decision to close the strip mill at Ravenscraig? Is he really prepared to tolerate a situation in which British Steel, in its prejudice, is blocking all expressions of interest in the purchase of the strip mill? Is not that a negation of competition policy? Knowing of such interest—it was the Secretary of State who revealed it—is he not prepared to do anything to test the market? Does he intend to allow British Steel to stifle competition in a way that cannot be in the public interest?
§ Mr. Lang
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the European Commission's competition directorate has given its provisional view that under the treaty of Paris the actions of British Steel are not anti-competitive. I think that he is also aware that the Director General of Fair Trading has concluded that on the basis of the evidence available to him at present, he has no reason to exercise his competition powers. Anyone wishing to bid for any of the assets of British Steel is free to approach British Steel and welcome to do so.
I have not given up—if there is any possibility of saving any steel jobs in Scotland, I am willing to help towards that end. The trade unions have decided to accept negotiations, and the Arthur D. Little report has said that the overall climate for steel investment in Scotland is not attractive and that Scotland is not well placed to compete. I think that most people in Scotland are realistic about the situation. I certainly regard my primary responsibility as being to help regenerate the economy of Lanarkshire.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Did not the type of meddling now being advocated by Opposition Members for the steel industry result in a disastrously inefficient industry in the 1970s, and has not British Steel actually flourished since the politicians relinquished their grip? How can we take seriously professions of concern from Opposition 278 Members when we remember that it was their union chums who led to the Ford plant going to Spain rather than to Dundee?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes the point extremely well. Between 1975 and 1985, at today's prices, the taxpayer had to contribute no less than £14 billion—the equivalent of £25 million per week—to the steel industry. That did not improve competition, output, productivity or efficiency—all that it did was to prop up uncompetitive jobs at extreme cost to the taxpayer and considerable damage to other jobs in the economy.