Will the Prime Minister accept from me that until two years ago this was a classic example of an industrial area suffering from noise and pollution, but with most people busy and relatively prosperous? Within the last two years it has retained the pollution but lost the prosperity, and the prosperity recedes further with each new closure by the British Steel Corporation. Will the Prime Minister therefore give a clear answer? Do the Government accept responsibility for the social consequences of such events as the threatened closure of the Birchley Steel Mills, or does he say it is none of his business?
The hon. and learned Member knows that this is a matter which is the responsibility of the British Steel Corporation, and it was deliberately made so by the Labour Government. I know that he has an Adjournment debate about it tomorrow, and I know that he will then be able to initiate a fuller discussion about it. No Government under the existing legislation has the power to force British Steel Corporation to sell a mill if it is not prepared to do so. That provision was also written into the Act by the Labour Government. We have made it clear that the corporation is enabled to sell the mill if it wishes to do so, but in this case, for which I know he has deep concern, I cannot force the corporation to do something against its will.
Has the Prime Minister any conception of the damage which his Government's changes in industrial training have done to the prospects of young people, in an area such as Warley—which covers this foreign ground mentioned by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Stokes)—where about 50 per cent. of all school leavers enter engineering, compared with a national average of about 13·9 per cent., simply because many of the smaller firms cannot afford training facilities?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern, and that of many other right hon. and hon. Members about training for the young, but I cannot for a moment accept that the steps which we have taken to increase the numbers being trained and which are borne out by the great increase in the figures of those undergoing training over the past two years, have damaged their prospects. I should agree with the hon. Gentleman if he said that much more still needs to be done, and we are trying to bring this about, but I do not accept that the increased training which we are providing has in any way damaged the potentialities of the young in his constituency.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the closures by the British Steel Corporation in Warley are having a depressing effect not only in Warley but in the whole of the West Midlands? When he does arrange his visit to Warley, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange to cross the border to Walsall to see for himself the distressing effects which will be felt in that town as a result of the complete closure at the end of this year of the stainless steel tube works of Tube Investments, resulting in total redundancies of over 2,000?
The British Steel Corporation is carrying through a process of rationalisation, which was one of the arguments put forward by the Labour Government when they nationalised it, and this has certain consequences. The answer lies in regional policy to bring about increased employment in other spheres, and I am sure that the House will agree, as most observers agree, that the present regional incentives and the areas which they cover are the most generous which this country has ever had.
Although the Prime Minister tries to shuffle off his Government's responsibilities in these matters on to the British Steel Corporation, will he take into account that the Government have, apparently, proposed a figure of 28 million tons a year for production in the steel industry as sufficient, whereas the Corporation has been arguing for a figure nearer 36 million tons, and under the Labour Government it was proposing a figure of 42 million tons? Is it not plain, therefore, that under his Government's policy there has been a progressive reduction in the British Steel Corporation's programme?
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. The bracket is 28–36 million tons, and it was reached by a joint body on which the British Steel Corporation was fully represented. The Corporation accepts the bracket. What the Corporation has done, like the steel industry in most other Western countries, has been to look at future demand and to make its assessment on that.
I said that the hon. Gentleman was wrong in saying that it was Government policy which brought this about. What the British Steel Corporation has accepted is the bracket of 28–36 million tons for production. This can be reviewed annually, like all investment programmes, with the Corporation, and if it comes to the conclusion, with my right hon. Friend, that the demand will be greater than estimated by the joint body at this moment, action can be taken on it.