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Steel Industry

Volume 181: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the Government's strategy for the steel industry in Scotland.

The Scottish Development Agency has, at my request, commissioned consultants to look at the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland. British Steel has undertaken to consider carefully any commercial opportunities which may be identified by the study.

I am tempted to ask the Secretary of State, "Is that it?" That does not seem much of a strategy to the thousands of workers and families who will be affected by the closures at Clydesdale and Ravenscraig and who will see it as a complete sell-out of Scotland's interests.

Has the Secretary of State seen the investment proposals put forward by the Clydesdale work force? If so, what does he propose to do about them? Is he prepared to argue the case with the board of British Steel? And if British Steel is not prepared to adopt the proposals, what action will he take to find an alternative buyer for the plant?

I am aware of the investment proposals presented by the trade unions concerned and I understand that they are with British Steel, which will no doubt consider them. As for the question of an alternative purchaser, British Steel has said that it might, in certain circumstances, be prepared to consider an alternative purchaser for the Clydesdale works. Obviously, we shall all be anxious to know whether a purchaser comes forward who is prepared to consider such an option.

Will the Secretary of State publicly welcome the decision by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the proposed closure of the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig and the Clydesdale works? Will he regard that Committee not as a rival, but as a partner in all our efforts to have the decisions reversed? Will he provide the Committee with any information—however preliminary—that the Scottish Development Agency study has already produced? Will he impress on its members the need to call Sir Robert Scholey as a witness to answer the questions that he has so far refused to answer? Will he ensure that the eight or nine questions that the Ravenscraig shop stewards have already put to the Secretary of State are given to the Select Committee, which can then use its powers to ensure that Scholey answers the questions that so far he has been avoiding?

I am happy that the Select Committee wishes to consider the matter. My Department and I will give our full co-operation to the Committee in response to any requests that it may make.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government report arguing the case for Dalzell as a site for the British Steel plate mill development has been passed to the consultants, Arthur D. Little? On 17 October, I asked the Minister whether he was still trying to persuade British Steel to reconsider its closure plans at Ravenscraig and Clydesdale, and he replied, "Yes, I certainly am". Can he say what steps he is taking in that enterprise and whether he intends to meet Sir Robert Scholey in the immediate future?

The consultants have access to any information that they require and any future meetings with the chairman of British Steel will depend on whether I think such a meeting likely to be fruitful.