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British Steel Corporation

Volume 22: debated on Monday 26 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he last met the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss the corporation's corporate plan.


asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he last met the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss the corporation's external financing limits.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry met the chairman of the British Steel Corporation on 30 March. They discussed a range of questions arising from the BSC's new corporate plan for 1982–85, including the external financing limit for 1982–83.

As there has been considerable speculation about whether the BSC will meet its targets for the current year, will the right hon. Gentleman make the exact position clear? If the corporation does not meet its targets, what are the implications for the external financing limits and employment?

In 1981–82 the BSC hopes to live firmly within its external financing limit. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are a number of considerable uncertainties in the current year and the BSC has brought them to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister. I refer, for example, to American markets, to anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases, and to the future of the prices regime in Europe. Until those matters are clear, we cannot be certain about the extent to which the BSC can meet its targets.

Given the corporation's present circumstances, does it make sense for it to sell a significant asset, Redpath Dorman Long, which has a full order book for what appears to many people to be a knock-down price? Will not the sale to Trafalgar House create a monopoly in the private sector? Is it not another example of the way in which the Government give away taxpayers' assets at ridiculously low prices?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the disposal of non-mainstream activities by the corporation is a matter for the BSC. It did not require the Government's consent and was a matter for its management. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to substitute his judgment about the value of RDL for that of Mr. MacGregor and his extremely experienced board, he must take responsibility for that. The price was agreed between the seller and the buyer and the advice of merchant banks was taken about the appropriate figure, given RDL's profit record.

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, this sale has nothing to do with Amersham International. It is a straight sale by BSC of a non-steel making activity. It is entirely appropriate that the BSC should finance part of its development by disposing of assets that are saleable in the market.