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Gartcosh Steel Mill

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 23rd January 1986.

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Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh Central 6:27 pm, 23rd January 1986

This is the first opportunity that I have had to take part in the long-running debate on Gartcosh. I know that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie), as Chairman of the Scottish Select Committee, has spent much time considering the connection between Gartcosh and Ravenscraig, and trying to save jobs at Gartcosh.

It is no comfort that we have been here before, at Linwood, Invergordon, and various shipyards and other steelworks in Scotland, when we have faced such problems. I have seen at first hand the worry and desperation of managers and workers as they search for yet another lifeline to try to save their factory and prevent its closure. Contrary to what is said by Opposition Members, Ministers and officials also search hard for ways of averting closures. A great deal of time is spent seeking new owners, new markets or new finance to prevent such closures, but at the end of the day factories that cannot be made viable cannot be saved, no matter how generous Governments may be with taxpayers' money.

Linwood, Bathgate and Invergordon closed not because Governments of both parties refused money, but because they could not compete in their markets. Steelworks have not closed because Governments have refused finance. Literally thousands of millions of pounds have been poured into the BSC, yet under Labour and Conservative Governments many thousands of jobs have been lost—more than half the work force. That is the context in which we should be viewing the problem of Gartcosh.

Labour Members choose to ignore the facts and in particular they ignore what is happening in the international steel markets. World demand is flat, not expanding. World capacity, however, has considerably increased in recent years, not least as less developed countries become self-sufficient in steel. Steel is also being substituted by other products, not just in motor car manufacture, which is important, but in other industries. It is absurd for Opposition Members to try to suggest that if, perchance, they were in Government there would be a return to building as many ships, motor cars at Linwood or other vehicles at Bathgate, as would justify the expansion or continuation of steelworks which are not viable today.

British Steel's task is to maximise its share of a rather static market and to do that against strong competition in Europe. The corporation's survival depends on its ability to compete. It is our job to take a realistic view of how best the BSC can compete in world markets.

I know that the Labour party may seek some short term advantage in ignoring such matters. Its protests are loud and it loves protest rallies. Frankly, Labour has nothing to offer the steel industry in Scotland but marches, parades and speeches at rallies. To that extent the Labour party is not just misleading itself but is misleading workers in Scotland.