Orders of the Day — Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th May 1978.

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Photo of Mr Robert Cant Mr Robert Cant , Stoke-on-Trent Central 12:00 am, 11th May 1978

The constraints of time will prevent me from making another contribution to what has been referred to as the "taphouse brawl".

The financial aspect of this matter is extremely important, but the strategy which underlies it is more important. I am more pessimistic about the strategy than are many of those who have spoken today. One cannot write off what is happening in the Third world. These nations will develop virility symbols, whether they need them or not. The impact from Korea across the world to Mexico will be enormous.

What is fundamentally wrong with the strategy of the Corporation is that it has overlooked the contribution that the mini-plants can make. I should have liked to go into more detail about that.

It is interesting to note what the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said. The computer to work out the steel programme was in Dallas. No computer in this country was big enough. The bank paid a glowing tribute not only to mini-plants but to the contribution which the developing electric arc furnaces are making in the United States.

Reference has been made to the Industrial Commissioner of the Common Market, who said that he would allow only one addition to plant in the Common Market in the future. He said: An exception is being made in the case of electric arc steelmaking. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) is worried about scrap. We are giving the world almost all the scrap that we have. The Spaniards are having a heyday with it. A grave mistake has been made, in mothballing the plant at Hunterston, by forgetting about the electric arc furnaces. I still think that Shelton has a future.

This morning the steel committee of the TUC met the British Steel Corporation to talk about the future of Shelton and Bilston. I do not know what happened about Bilston, but the steel committee gave 100 per cent. backing to the installation of an electric arc at Shelton. What if the British Steel Corporation turns the idea down? Will the Government intervene and honour the pledge that they gave under the Beswick review, saying that if all the unions on the steel committee want an electric arc furnace the Government will give it the go-ahead?

A further point of great interest concerns the sale of plants. There may be a bit of doubt about the identity of the buyers of plants. I asked Sir Charles Villiers and the man who really runs the BSC, Mr. Scholey, whether I could mention this point. I referred to the letter from a Tory MP—I hope that I spoke with suitable contempt—and to the reply that he had received. I told them that they were giving me an entirely different version, that they agreed that the Shelton plant was entirely clapped out but that they feared the competition it would produce if it were sold.

I want to know who has the last word on the sale of plant. I have a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State saying that he has the last word, while Sir Charles Villiers has told me that it is he, not the Government, who has the last word about whether plants will be bought or sold because that is what it says in the nationalisation Act.

I feel that Shelton does not have an electric arc because it is one of the winners. We at Shelton are one of the sucess stories. Shelton is an area which has an unemployment rate of only 3·7 per cent. and can therefore be written off in consideration about the location of electric arcs.

If Shelton or some part of it ever closed we would want the industrial development certificates that are always denied us because we have low unemployment. We would want them to attract any industry that wanted to come to Shelton, Stoke on Trent. I hope that the Minister who has IDCs within his grasp will give me an assurance on the matter tonight.