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British Steel Corporation

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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19.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will lay on the Table of the House all the papers that have passed between himself and the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation over the last 12 months.

Is there not a growing feeling, aggravated by the Secretary of State's evasive answers earlier this afternoon, that, while these very important discussions about the BSC's future are going on, there is a conspiracy of silence in regard to telling this House anything about those discussions? We represent the taxpayers who will have to pay bills amounting to billions of pounds. In how many weeks' time will the Secretary of State make a full statement to this House?

The matter is being dealt with urgently. I have had several discussions and my hon. Friend the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)—has had discussions with the British Steel Corporation. As I have already indicated, I shall be seeing the TUC steel committee tomorrow. We are making as much progress as we can. I am not flippant in any way and do not underestimate the needs to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Will my right hon. Friend point out quietly to the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation that it would be better for the image of public corporations if chairmen were more forthcoming to Select Committees of the House, which have a duty to probe into these matters and which expect co-operation from persons of that status?

I am not aware that the chairmen of nationalised industries do not co-operate with Select Committees. I know that when I have had the honour to appear before Select Committees I have tried to be as helpful as I can.

Will the Secretary of State accept that we shall look forward to what he has to say on Thursday on these matters, but also take into account that he is being rather coy about this? Will he not assure us that he will try to make a statement before Christmas on what he intends to do, if necessary postponing some of the longer-term decisions for a second and later statement? Some of us want to be helpful, but he is not helping us.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he has any legislative plans to alter the structure of the British Steel Corporation.

Is the Minister of State aware that while his Department answers Questions for 50 minutes the Corporation will have lost another £50,000? Does he accept that the Beswick reprieves have acted as a cancer on profitable parts of the industry, such as Scunthorpe? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that no funds at present designated for investment will be taken away merely to pay wages in the industry?

None of that arises out of the hon. Gentleman's Question. Perhaps he will make a calculation of how many tens of thousands of dollars Bethlehem Steel lost while he was putting his supplementary question.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that while the steel industry is in trouble he will at all times consult the trade union leaders in the industry so that any solution is acceptable to them?

Yes, of course. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said, we shall be meeting the TUC steel committee tomorrow.

Can the hon. Gentleman say when the first planning agreement was made with the Corporation and how many changes there have been since then?