HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc257-9
9. Mr. Stevenson:

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the prospects for steel production in 1992 and in 1993; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sainsbury

United Kingdom steel production totalled 11 million tonnes in the first nine months of 1992, equivalent to 14.7 million tonnes in a full year. The industry expects United Kingdom steel production in 1993 to be at the same level as it was in 1992.

Mr. Stevenson

Is the Minister aware that his response will be seen as another example of the Government's attitude towards industry, which reeks of complacency? In the light of the recent statement by the chairman of British Steel that up to 50,000 additional jobs could be lost as a result of this Government-inspired recession and of the dumping of cheap steel imports, especially from eastern Europe, into the European market, will the Minister in his capacity as President of the European Council initiate an immediate inquiry into the dumping of cheap steel imported into the European market? In view of the similarities, will he do the same for cheap, dumped coal imports?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am a little puzzled about how giving the facts about production this year and the forecast production for next year could be complacent. We are well aware of the concerns about dumping. We also fully support the Commission's investigation into illegal state aids. We are working urgently with our European Community partners to explore what regime might be appropriate for the imports of steel from central European countries into the whole European Community from 1 Janaury next year.

Mr. Knapman

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that nationalised, subsidised Italian steel firms have gained the orders for the supply of steel to all the works in the second Severn crossing, in addition to embroiling British Steel, which stands on its own two feet, in a trade war with America? Will my right hon. Friend please intervene, if not before tea, at least before dinner?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am well aware of the concerns of the industry about the contract to which my hon. Friend refers. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic has already written to the British Constructional Steelwork Association on that. My officials yesterday met the director of the association and explained the Government's present action to address those issues.

Mr. Barry Jones

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the £50 million losses announced by British Steel, of its 20 per cent. cut, of the loss of 500 jobs at Shotton steel works and of the closure of Brymbo steel works with the loss of 1,100 jobs? What precisely will the Minister do to prevent the dumping of east European steel in Britain and in western Europe? May I remind the Minister of the vital part steel plays in Wales? We have given our blood. We cannot lose any more jobs. We look to the Minister and to the Government to help our steel industry.

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope that hon. Members of all parties are aware of the achievements of the industry and of the dramatic improvements in efficiency which have made it, by all accounts, one of the world's most efficient steel industries. It would be nice to hear Opposition Members pay tribute to the achievement of the industry in increasing its exports again this year and for the first time achieving an export of more than 50 per cent. of its production.

Mr. Oppenheim

Will my right hon. Friend gently remind Opposition Members that when they were running British Steel with their hands-on industrial strategy, British Steel was the world's largest loss maker and our balance in steel products was £1 billion a year in the red? Now, our balance of trade in steel products is £1 billion a year in surplus and British Steel is the most productive and efficient steel producer in western Europe.

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend has made his point effectively. I can add that in 1979, it took more than 13 man hours to produce a tonne of liquid steel. That is now being achieved by British Steel in fewer than five man hours.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister look without delay into the trading position of the engineering steels industry, a large part of which is in my constituency, not least to ensure that we maintain our export record, especially in North America? Urgent consideration needs to be given to the matter.

Mr. Sainsbury

I share the hon. Gentleman's disappointment about the action taken on steel imports by the American authorities. Countervailing duties have been imposed, but, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the duties on British steel are somewhat less than those on most of the competitors.

I would say to the hon. Member that, as a highly efficient private sector company, British Steel expects to take its own commercial decisions, and the last thing it wants is to have the Government telling it how to run its business.

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