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Steel Industry

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the trend in the numbers of employees in the steel industry.

According to the most recently published figures, the number of employees in employment in the iron and steel industries fell by an estimated 2,500 in the year to January 1988.

Does the Minister appreciate that, with privatisation on the agenda, there is now considerable concern among steel workers because they have noticed that with the phoenix companies already created there has been a tendency to downgrade conditions of employment? Will he recognise that there will be considerable concern among steel workers throughout the industry if there is any attempt to dilute the contributory pension scheme, which has been established over a number of years?

I can appreciate the concern which the hon. Gentleman's constituents will feel when privatisation comes along, because although there are great opportunities, it represents a new departure, and clearly his constituents will want to be assured that there will be no dilution in the way that he suggests.

Perhaps I could make the point to the hon. Gentleman that there has been a transformation in the United Kingdom steel industry in recent years, and that is something that must bode well for his constituents. It is also worth emphasising that BSC gave an assurance as long ago as last December that, subject to market conditions, there would continue to be a commercial requirement for steel making and continuous casting capacity at the five integrated BSC plants for at least the next seven years. While I do not in any sense underplay the feelings of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, I hope that when they look at the industry in total they will be substantially reassured.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many more jobs among steel-using industries stand to be lost by the operation of cartels among European steel producers and political interference than could possibly be saved in the steel industry by any such practices?

While that may not be directly a matter for me, I can understand the concern that my hon. Friend expresses in that question. Sometimes there is a feeling, certainly on this side of the House, that the high standards that we impose on ourselves are not always entirely matched by the performance of others.