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Steel Industry

Volume 84: debated on Wednesday 23 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the present position in regard to the privatisation of the special steels capacity of the British Steel Corporation; and if he will make a statement.

It was announced on 7 August that the Government have agreed in principle to BSC's and GKN's proposals for a joint venture in engineering steels. The Government welcome the proposed venture as a further step towards the privatisation of BSC's activities.

Does the Minister agree that after all the furtive wheeling and dealing in pursuit of this privatisation, which has continued for several years, it is time that some consideration was given to the interests of the workers in the special steels industry, who hay e devoted great energy to assist the development of the industry, taken part in an enormous effort dramatically to improve productivity and broken world production records, but whose wages, valuation and conditions of employment are now regarded as a matter of the utmost secrecy? Does the Minister accept that the Government have a responsibility to the nation as a whole, not merely to the accommodation of the fixers in our declining economy?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the work force is an important aspect of any company. However, he will be aware that the Government made their decision, which was announced on 7 August, with the thought in mind that it is in the best interests of the companies and, therefore, of their labour forces, that the proposals should be proceeded with. However, negotiations have yet to take place.

Is my hon. Friend aware that steel stockholders in my constituency tell me that they have considerable difficulty in getting supplies of appropriate steels from BSC and that, although they would like to buy British, they find that on the whole BSC does not seem to be interested and that, as a result, they have to import many kinds of special steel? Does my hon. Friend agree that privatisation can only improve that position?

I agree that privatisation is likely to improve the situation. That is why we are proceeding with quotas in the way that we are.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that rumours are rife again in south Yorkshire about further closures in the special steels sector? In the past such rumours have all too often proved to be true. As the BSC chairman, Sir Robert Haslam, made it clear at his last meeting with the Select Committee that he expected a further closure in that sector after Tinsley Park, and as agreement has now been reached on the privatisation scheme, will the hon. Gentleman take steps to make public this agreement, which so far has been secret, so that the people concerned will know where they stand, how many more closures will take place and how many more jobs will be lost?

Those rumours are pure and complete conjecture. Further negotiations are taking place to get the deal together and, until they are concluded, no decisions could possibly be taken. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about uncertainty. That is always very unsettling for those who may or may not be involved.