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Steel Industry

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had on employment prospects in the steel industry in Scotland.

My right hon. Friend and I are in close touch with developments in the steel industry in Scotland and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. In recent weeks I have met Members of Parliament from the areas most directly concerned together with trade unionists from various steelworks in Scotland. I have also met the STUC. Later this afternoon I will be meeting a deputation of workers from the Glengarnock steelworks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman therefore aware of the uncertainties within the steel industry and among steel workers in Scotland? Will he comment on the proposals to mothball one of the units at Hunterston, which could have very adverse effects on investment in steel in Scotland and lead to the situation's becoming critical? It is plain that the right hon. Gentleman's useless answer will not help matters.

I answered the hon. Gentleman's Question. He asks me now whether I am prepared to comment on specific issues concerning the steel industry in Scotland, and the answer must be "No". We in the Government are considering the matter. We know how serious it is in Scotland, the whole of the United Kingdom, and throughout the world. We shall make our decisions known as soon as we can.

When my right hon. Friend meets the workers from Glengarnock steelworks with me this afternoon, will he realise that if the proposals by the British Steel Corporation's Scottish division to shut Glengarnock are carried out the present unemployment rate of 14 per cent. in the Garnock Valley will be increased by one-third of the present labour force, to between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent? When he makes representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about the Scottish point of view on the future of the steel industry, will he make sure that this point is made forcefully? If he does not, the Garnock Valley will become a ghost valley.

I shall be prepared to listen to what my hon. Friend and his colleagues say when they talk to me about the matter this afternoon. We are all concerned to see that we have a good steel presence in Scotland, because it is essential, no matter what current difficulties there are throughout the world, that we continue to have such a presence, not only for the social reasons advanced by my hon. Friend but for very good economic reasons.

Does the Minister agree that whatever the difficulties of the Scottish steel industry they must be seen against the world-wide picture of overcapacity at present? Will he accept from most of the House that nothing must be allowed to interrupt the modernisation of the Scottish steel industry? We hope that he will make that point very clearly to his colleagues in the Government.

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be confused between modernisation and massacre. There is a great difference. The Government and the British Steel Corporation have been very conscious of the need for modernization, and I think that about 21 per cent. of the BSC's investment programme is being spent in Scotland at present.