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British Steel Corporation (Closures)

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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17.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects the tripartite talks to take place on the steel industry in Scotland; and when he expects to make a statement on the future development of the industry.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to make an announcement regarding the British Steel Corporation's closure review.

My right hon. Friend proposes to make a statement tomorrow on our review of the British Steel Corporation's proposed closure of plants. To assist hon. Members, I shall place copies of the interim report by my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning.

The tripartite meetings with the BSC and the TUC Steel Industry Consultative Committee to discuss the proposed closures in Scotland have been arranged for 17th and 18th April.

Is my hon. Friend aware that steelworkers in Scotland are greatly concerned that no decision announced tomorrow should affect or prejudice the future of any works in Scotland before there has been a full opportunity for representatives of the trade union committees in those works to make their comments to the Government and to the BSC, as promised by Ministers? Is he further aware that there is great dissatisfaction with the BSC's proposals in Scotland, and that this matter will require the fullest consideration by the Government before any decision is made?

I assure my hon. Friend that any threatened closure of Scottish plants—in particular, the one in Lanarkshire to which I think he may be referring—will not come about before the review is completed. On the assumption that the review is not too long delayed, there will be no reduction of operations before that time. I also assure my hon. Friend about the procedure regarding Scottish closures. It was originally agreed that that procedure would take place after discussions about the English and Welsh closures. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State visited nine Scottish plants between 11th and 14th November. The tripartite talks on the Scottish closures, which were originally fixed for 16th December, have had to be postponed for reasons that I shall not give. They will now take place at the earliest time that can be arranged, which will be 17th and 18th April.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this long series of meetings has surprised Scottish steelworkers, in that they have not led to the abandonment of plans hitherto announced? Is he further aware that steel consumers in Scotland, in common with the workers, believe that what is needed is an autonomous Scottish Steel Corporation, with the appropriate degree of public control?

Regarding a Scottish Steel Corporation, I believe that there is sufficient interconnection between operations in modern steel making to ensure that if there were a separation off of a purely Scottish steel making sector there would not be the economies of scale to make Scottish plants viable and competitive. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the BSC's proposals will not lead to the effect on steel in Scotland that the SNP believes. Since the review began, the BSC has announced a decision to build a direct reduction plant at Hunterston, which will be extremely important for that peninsula, and a signficant proportion of the £400 million proposed in the BSC's Strategy for Scotland has already been announced. Furtherfore, there is to be an extension—[Interruption.] This is an important enough subject for me to set out these facts. Furthermore, there is to be a planned increase in Scottish steel making capacity from 3·5 million tons now to over 4·5 million tons in the early 1980s. That is a great achievement.