Skip to main content

Industrialists (Representations)

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received from industrialists on Government intervention in the strategic direction and investment in companies.

The CBI report "Competing with the World's Best" rejected the notion that the Government could or should

"be in the business of picking winners, or of engaging in direct intervention in the strategic direction and management of companies".

Does my right hon. Friend mean that British industrialists do not want to go back to national plans, solemn and binding undertakings, high inflation, nationalisation, high taxation and trade union unrest? That, after all, is the Labour party's policy for this country. Is it really true that industrialists do not want to return to such a situation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I meet industrialists their first question is, "How can we prevent a return to the policies still advocated by the Labour party?" On the specific question of picking winners, they remember all too well the failures of the national enterprise board, which invested in just over 100 companies. Of those, 35 were liquidated or went into receivership, 38 were sold at a loss, and only 29 were sold at a price that returned the initial taxpayers' investment. Industrialists know that that policy was a failure, and they do not want to go back to it.

Is not that the most open admission yet that, despite the honeyed words of the Secretary of State for Scotland, he has done nothing, is doing nothing and will do nothing to intervene in any way to help to save the Ravenscraig plant? The Government will not assist in finding a purchaser. They are refusing adamantly even to investigate thin slab technology. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the Secretary of State for Scotland's words in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), in which he refused a meeting and stated:

"Ravenscraig shows the folly of political intervention in commercial decisions".
Does not that show that, despite all the promises and pledges, in the past five years the Government have carried out a sorry and tragic charade and have connived at every stage with Black Bob Scholey to sell off the Scottish steel industry?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made our position on that matter clear yesterday. What was not made clear then was the Opposition's position. When questioned on the radio, they admitted that their policy was to talk about the issue. When pressed and asked, "What if British Steel refuses to change its policy after talking?" the Opposition gave no indication of what they would do. I offer the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman an opportunity now to say what they would do. Would they renationalise British Steel, intervene in British Steel, subsidise British Steel or just talk about it?