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British Steel Corporation And British Leyland

Volume 977: debated on Monday 28 January 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry what is his latest estimate of the total amount of public funds which will be made available in the financial year 1979–80 to the British Steel Corporation and British Leyland.

The British Steel Corporation's cash limit for the 1979–80 financial year remains £700 million. The Government will provide finance to cover BSC's net external financial requirements up to this limit.

In April 1979 my right hon. Friend's predecessor authorised the provision of £150 million of public funds, in the form of equity capital, to meet British Leyland's requirements for the financial year 1979–80. This money has been paid.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he satisfied that that is the best way to invest over £850 million in British industry? What hope can he give the taxpayer for the years to come?

The question of British Steel is very much with us at present. It has been part of the Government's policy, as it was of that of the previous Government, for BSC to work as rapidly as possible to a profitable position. My hon. Friend will know very well that BSC's external finance limits for next year are set at £450 million, which is a considerable reduction on the present year.

We have recently looked very closely at British Leyland's corporate plan, and we have judged that it is right to put in more public funds for the coming year.

Can the Minister tell us what the foreign competitors of British Steel, about whom we hear so much, are putting into their industries, particularly in relation to the claims constantly made by the trade union now on strike that bigger subsidies than the subsidy going into BSC for current accounting are going to those foreign industries, whose productivity is being used as an argument in the strike?

It is true that in the past years most, if not all, of the European steel industries have been aided in some way. But I have looked at the figures and, although comparisons are not easy, I can find no suggestion to support what the hon. Gentleman says—that more money has gone into British steel. Secondly, on the Continent there are already steel industries which are back in profit.