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British Steel

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the chairman of British Steel.

In view of the importance of the steel industry to Scottish employment and to the entire Scottish economy, will the Secretary of State draw the chairman's attention to the need to locate a new steel plate mill in Scotland? That is necessary not just for the Dalziel works, but for Ravenscraig and for the whole future of steel making in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State accept any responsibility for the future of the Scottish steel industry, or was privatisation merely a means of abrogating all Government responsibility?

Investment by the steel industry is entirely a matter for the steel industry to decide. The point of investment in the steel industry or in any other industry is to ensure the most efficient production and for no other reason.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that privatisation of the British steel industry in my constituency and elsewhere on Teesside has done much for the economic regeneration of the area and is one of the outstanding achievements of the Government in the past few years? Is he aware that continuation of that policy with the privatisation of the Tees and Hartlepool port authority would be most welcome?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the remarkable industrial transformation on Teesside. I should also point to the large increase in British industrial production in the past few years. I believe that both are connected with the policy of letting industry make its own investment decisions.

Given that the overall level of British steel production is still less than half that of West Germany, and given that our share of the continental market is very small, does not the Secretary of State see a great possibility for the expansion of British Steel? In the context of 1992, would not that safeguard the health of all the plants in the United Kingdom? Will he use his influence—or perhaps even his golden share—to secure such expansion?

I am not sure that the golden share would be of use for that purpose, but I agree with the hon. Lady, and pay tribute to her for striking an optimistic note for once. I will do all that I can to ensure that British Steel has opportunities throughout the world—and in the Community—to increase its sales and its share of the market. We are fortunate in having persuaded the Americans to agree to end the voluntary restraint agreement in, I believe, three years' time, which will give British Steel big opportunities in the United States. It will also give that excellent company further opportunities to increase its market share in Europe.