asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will publish his current estimate of the British Steel Corporation's investment programme for the succeeding five years, together with totals of the work force required over the same period.
The latest forecast of expenditure on the British Steel Corporation's capital investment programme was published in January of this year in the White Paper on Public Expenditure to 1978–79, Cmnd 5879. The forecast carried the qualification that the phasing of the programme is under continuing examination by the corporation.The corporation's development plans provide for a reduction in the number employed by the corporation from 225,000 at the present time to some 195,000 by the turn of the decade. These figures do not take account of further improvements in productivity which may be negotiated within the industry.
Does not that typically woolly answer hide the fact that the Government have spent 15 months trying to make up their minds about investment strategy as it affects Scotland and Wales? Does the Minister agree that we urgently need to hear the Government pronounce, given the confusion engendered by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with all the queries and doubts he is raising about jobs lost within the EEC?
The Government have been carrying out the pledge which we made in successive election manifestos to undertake a full-scale review of the British Steel Corporation's closure and investment strategy. I do not believe that there is any delay or procrastination in the investment programme as a result of this review. All the major projects that were put to us last year—those that concern Teesside, Scunthorpe and Sheffield—have been authorised. The only major project put to us this year was that concerning Port Talbot. We received it at the end of January, but did not get the additional information required to take a view on it until the beginning of May. It is a major project, with implications for Shotton, but I believe that even on that we shall be able to reach a decision shortly.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the present difficulties of the corporation were caused by delays in approving investment proposals during the Conservative Government's period in office, up to 1974, and that had there been adequate investment then, not only would there have been more adequate steel supplies last year but employees in the steel industry would be in a much happier position today?
My hon. Friend is right. There certainly has been a marked lack of investment in the steel industry, particularly in the period before nationalisation. One of the great effects of public ownership will be to put the steel industry on a par with competitive industries abroad.