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Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what are the latest figures for import and export of steel.

In the 12 months ending February this year, 4 million metric tons of ingots, semi-finished and finished steel were imported and 3·6 million metric tons exported.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figure for imports is incomprehensible to many people, given that we are cutting back on production? If this is due to the cyclical production of steel, does not my hon. Friend agree that we should be making investment now? In that event, will he have a word with British Steel at Scunthorpe so that it might put forward plans for increasing blast furnace capacity there?

The question of imports is undoubtedly affected by the fact that customers were lost when the British Steel Corporation could not meet the demand in 1974 during the after-effects of the three-day week. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but it is a fact which their business friends realise. Once customers are lost to cheap imports, it is very difficult to get them back. Opposition Members may try to conceal their embarrassment about the disaster of two years ago, but the effects of it are still being felt. We are encouraging the British Steel Corporation to increase investment as a result of the funds that we are making available both for investment and for stocking.

Coming back to something rather more recent than the three-day week, is the Minister satisfied that the Japanese are following the voluntary restraint on exports of steel agreed with Britain and other EEC countries in November? If he is not satisfied, what action does he intend to take?

In respect of special steels, we are having discussions with the Japanese in Tokyo on the 28th and 29th of this month. In regard to high speed steel the Japanese have generally kept to the forecast, but on tool steels and stainless steels there is some dispute. On bulk steels, I draw attention to the fact that we made an announcement on 14th March that we intend to investigate the Japanese light sections and flats.

Will the Minister take note of the deep concern that is felt in all steel areas, including Sheffield, about imports of steel? Will he accept that at the new Thrybergh Mill near Rotherham recently when proper investment took place—which did not happen under the Conservative Party—a world record for production of steel was achieved?