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Steel Exports

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade if he will make a statement on the relative steel exports of the United Kingdom, France and West Germany.

Steel exports for the United Kingdom for 1981 are estimated to have been 3·9 million tonnes, those for France 11·4 million tonnes and those for West Germany 19·1 million tonnes.

Does the Minister agree that the figures are deplorable? Is it true that we have been losing ground over the past three weeks in the import and export of steel and that more imports have entered Britain than have entered West Germany, France and other member States? When will the Government do something to stop the destruction of the steel industry? Will it be left to suffer like the textile industry and other industries? I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that thousands of workers have been declared redundant in the steel industry and that the total will increase substantially until the Government take action.

I know of the anxiety of the hon. Gentleman and of others about events in the steel industry, which have been evidenced in many recent debates, including one last week. I remind the House that the penetration of the United Kingdom's steel market is less than that of the Federal Republic of Germany or of France. The penetration of the United Kingdom market is 25 per cent. compared with 35 per cent. in the Federal Republic of Germany and 43 per cent. in France.

What estimate has the hon. and learned Gentleman made of the effect of various devaluations of the pound on steel exports? Will he consult the Secretary of State for Industry on what steps should be taken, pending devaluation, to save what remains of the steel industry from continued and unabated imports?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not right to say that there are unabated imports. We have secured a much tougher regime against third country imports into the European Community. I cannot give the precise figures that result from varying exchange rates. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take comfort from the recent drop in the value of the pound.

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the unnecessary steel strike last year has caused more imports to come into Britain? Is he aware that a number of firms in my constituency and in his are continuing to import steel, following their decision to import during the strike, when they had to get supplies from elsewhere?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I am sure has been noted by the steel unions and the British Steel Corporation. I hope that the restructuring operation will enable the steel industry to regain these lost markets before too long.

Does the Minister realise that the steel strike was not the industry's main problem? Is he aware that the industry's problems are the result of Government policies? Does he accept that account should be taken of the number of steel workers who are now redundant and not likely to get other jobs?

If the Labour Administration had faced the problem of restructuring the steel industry, we should not have had such grave problems from 1974 onwards, and the shock would not have been as great as it has been.