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British Steel Corporation

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the proposals of the British Steel Corporation to reduce its steel making capacity to 15 million tons per annum which would cut manpower in the industry by approximately 40,000 in addition to those redundancies that have already been announced."
If implemented, these proposals would mean the closing down of a substantial part of the steel industry as we know it today. They are coupled with a proposal to take 2 million tons out of the export market on the ground that it is non-profitable because of the strength of sterling. It is also proposed to establish a new grouping called British Steel Holdings that could herald the start of a process of hiving off to the private sector on similar lines to Government's proposals for the National Freight Corporation.

These proposals are specific, the reduction in capacity that is proposed is certain, and the only question remaining is how that reduced capacity will be distributed throughout the country. We can calculate the job implications for each area and, indeed, each plant. For example, in South Wales the proposals would mean that approximately 10,000 jobs in the steel-making industry would be lost—3,000 to 4,000 at Port Talbot and 6,500 at Llanwern. A further 6,000 to 9,000 jobs would be lost as a consequence in the South Wales coalfield, as that coalfield supplies 88,000 tons of coking coal to the Llanwern steelworks per month. If steel making were abolished at that plant, that coking coal would not be needed.

This matter is important—this really answers itself—because in my political lifetime there has been nothing of comparable importance affecting South Wales plants or, indeed, other plants such as that at Scunthorpe. South Wales would be returned to the period of the 1930s.

This matter has both national and regional implications. These proposals would render the whole of South Wales, from Chepstow in the East to Pembroke in the West, an employment disaster area. In national terms, these proposals are related to the Government's policy on shipbuilding, the imports of motor vehicles, their monetary policy, and the strength of sterling as an impediment to our exporting capacity.

The matter is also urgent. I concede that there has been a recent debate on the steel industry, but these are new and unexpected proposals that were disclosed to the major steel union on Friday of last week, and there are questions that need urgent answers from the Government. Are the Government to stand on the sidelines, or will they intervene in this crisis? Will the Government allow de-industrialisation to continue; or will they bale out the corporation?

Under the Standing Order you, Mr. Speaker, are invited to consider the extent to which this matter concerns the administrative responsibility of Ministers. These proposals are due entirely to the cash limits that the Government have imposed on BSC— £450 million in 1980–81–which cannot be used to finance losses. The matter is not premature, because the BSC has admitted the scale of the redundancies. The matter falls four-square within the criteria of the Standing Order. If the House is not given the opportunity to debate this alarming and vital development, it will not be fulfilling its proper function in our democracy and will not be acting as a forum for such a debate.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) gave me notice this morning that he would seek to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration.

As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision. I listened with care to the exchanges on this very subject at Question Time this afternoon, in which the hon. Member took part.

I have given careful consideration to the hon. Gentleman's representations, but I have to rule that his submissions do not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House, which was for a debate on the British Steel Corporation's proposal to the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation on Friday 30 November to axe a further 32,000 jobs, with a consequent threat to devastate many steel communities and regional economies.