HC Deb 24 June 1992 vol 210 cc246-8
5. Dr. Bray

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has for the reclamation and redevelopment of steel sites in Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

Discussions continue between British Steel, Scottish Enterprise, Lanarkshire development agency and Motherwell district council on the steel sites in Scotland which remain in British Steel ownership, concerning the contribution that British Steel will make to the reclamation and redevelopment of these sites.

Dr. Bray

Is the Minister aware that Ravenscraig cast its last slab of steel this morning and that steel making has now ceased in Scotland? Does he accept that, to the end, Ravenscraig workers and the community that sustained them demonstrated the skills and responsibilities needed in a modern industry? Will he therefore accelerate the reclamation and redevelopment of the steel sites in Scotland so that Motherwell, and the people who have produced steel for generations, are able to continue to make a formidable contribution to the wealth of the nation in the future, as they have done in the past?

Mr. Stewart

I associate myself wholly with the sentiments expressed to the House by the hon. Gentleman regarding the steel workers of Ravenscraig and the communities that support them. As for his question about future work being done on the steel sites, I am encouraged by the agreement between British Steel and Scottish Enterprise on 15 April jointly to examine the best future use of the sites. The hon. Gentleman will, I think, know that the independent environmental audit that was recently commissioned by British Steel to examine the Ravenscraig site should help to identify the environmental issues better and to form an informed judgment on the way forward. I look forward to discussing later today the more detailed matters with the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) and Motherwell district council.

Mr. Devlin

On behalf of the steel-making constituencies of Teesside, may I point out to my hon. Friend that when a steel plant closes and a massive slimming exercise takes place, as has happened in our part of the world, where 56,000 people lost their jobs during the early 1980s, it does not necessarily mean that that is the end of the road for the communities concerned? The work of British Steel Industries and other support agencies that came into the area— [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to make a speech to the House but to ask his question.

Mr. Devlin

Cannot other agencies that come in on the back of a steel closure of this magnitude lay the foundations for a very successful thriving economy for an area such as Motherwell in times to come?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. It is now necessary for everyone to look forward to the future in Lanarkshire. I believe that that is what people are doing. We have poured in massive sums of public money. We have the enterprise zone. We have put in place a range of measures. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is approving £9.7 million expenditure by the Lanarkshire development agency for the development of phase I of the freight village at Mossend. About 1,600 jobs will result from phase I and the terminal there. The enterprise zone will result in 17,000 jobs, gross. We must, therefore, look to the future. That is what the Government are doing. That is what I believe the overwhelming majority of the people of Lanarkshire want to happen.

Dr. Reid

On the day when the last slab was cast in Motherwell after 112 years of steel making, may I pay my tribute to the steel workers and their families and say to the Minister that if his Government had shown half the dedication and commitment to the steel workers of Lanarkshire that the steel workers have shown to the industry, they would not be out of work today. Since the Minister and the Government have done damn all to save steel making in Motherwell over the past few years, will he at least give a pledge today that the Government will hold British Steel to its responsibility to provide finance for the reclamation of those steel sites? I want a concrete pledge today, because British Steel has produced nothing but pain in the past and has given us a present that is berefit of hope. It must not be allowed to destroy the future of Lanarkshire in the way that it has destroyed over the past 10 years.

Mr. Stewart

I reject the hon. Gentleman's allegation about the Government. I note that he did not mention the fact that when the Government came to office, British Steel was losing £1.86 billion a year, or about £5 million a day. That could not possibly continue. We must now look to the future. I pay tribute to the efforts of the steel workers. The Government are backing their commitment with real resources. I hope that members of the Labour party, who, I presume, want an improvement in the economy of Lanarkshire and more jobs in Lanarkshire, do not fall into the trap of talking down the area's prosperity.

Mr. Dewar

In the circumstances, I am a little surprised that the Secretary of State did not answer the question himself. I must say to the Minister that it seems to me that sympathy and tributes are not difficult to give, but we want a commitment that there will be a matching effort by the Government not only in the initial stages of the crisis facing the Lanarkshire economy but sustained over a considerable period so that a future can be built. Does the Minister accept that it is essential that British Steel take full responsibility for dealing with the legacy of dereliction and contamination that it is leaving behind? If British Steel does not accept that full responsibility, will the Minister take legal powers that will allow him to insist that in this case the polluter really pays?

Mr. Stewart

We have not just paid tributes to the steel workers of Lanarkshire. The hon. Gentleman criticises the Government, but he never answers the question; what would the Labour party have done if it had been in power? It would have done nothing that the Government have not done. Our commitment has been matched by funds, for the medium and long term certainly. I am discussing the details of reclamation and clearance with hon. Members, and the hon. Gentleman will know the legal framework within which the Government will have to operate.

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