Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in his opening speech that the debate was bound to be contentious. As some hon. Members know, I was in Scotland when the announcement was made about the proposed closure of Gartcosh. In my original incarnation as Minister of State, Department of Employment I saw the matter unfold. I was moved to my current responsibilities and it was the first issue to which I was asked to address myself. Of course, I am aware that the loss of 550 jobs at Gartcosh and one or two more, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) pointed out, is a matter that should be taken extremely seriously. It would be easier to avoid the decision, but if I did so that would be cynical, because it would be a decision taken for purely political purposes. Sometimes, however unpleasant or unpopular, or whatever the political consequences we must take those decisions. If there is over-capacity, as there is in the steel industry not only in Scotland and England, but in Europe, some action must be taken.
The debate has centred on two distinct, but closely intertwined themes. The first is how the British Steel Corporation is managed and how it relates to the Government. The second is how the proposed closure of Gartcosh fits into the agreed strategy. I hope that on the first point-setting aside privatisation of which I am in favour—the aim of a profitable competitive steel industry would be common ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) made that point perfectly. In distinct terms, he said that a profitable and competitive steel industry ensures more jobs.
In 1979–80 the BSC had a loss of about £1·25 billion as a result of written down over capacity, the steel strike, and overmanning. We have come a long way since then. In the first half of the current financial year the corporation made an operating profit, which reflects extremely well on the management and on the work force. During that time there were continuous and serious difficulties in Europe. However, there is still some way to go before the corporation can stand on its own two feet, service its borrowings, provide the necessary capital expenditure and provide a return on the millions of pounds that the taxpayer has put into it.