Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 23rd January 1992.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 7:14 pm, 23rd January 1992

I shall deal later with the hon. Gentleman's point.

What can now be done? There has been a long campaign to try to persuade British Steel to consider offers for the Ravenscraig plant. British Steel now says that it will do so, but I fear, because one has to face reality, that it has probably agreed to consider offers because it is confident that offers will not be forthcoming. The tragedy is that, when there was an opportunity to find a buyer, it was fiercely obstructed by British Steel. The Secretary of State for Scotland lamented that fact before the Select Committee but, as far as I can determine, he did nothing to unblock the logjam. The option of a new owner should be kept on the agenda for as long as possible.

The possibility of new technology must also be examined urgently. It was identified as a possibility—not, I admit, as a strong possibility—in the Arthur D. Little report. I know that it is still being investigated by Scottish Enterprise. Many of those who have followed the argument will be familiar with the innovative proposal that has been put forward. It contemplates the linking of thin slab casting to traditional steelmaking techniques. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), showing more energy and determination than any Minister, is going to Indiana in the next week or so to look at one of the plants where thin slab casting is in operation. I do not pretend that it is an easy option, but it must be pursued to find out whether there is any possible way forward.

Dalzell is still producing plate. As everyone connected with the plant knows, the Labour party has always maintained that there is a case for investment there, and it has consistently challenged the single plate mill strategy. It is not in the best interests of the industry. In our view, it was always likely to be bad news for Dalzell. Sadly, that was almost borne out.

Circumstances have changed. The recession has undermined the plan for a new plate mill on Teesside. The Government should be pressing for the modernisation of Dalzell, including the installation of accelerated cooling. It still remains a low-cost option. In hard times, it must be attractive to British Steel.

There are no short cuts, however. This is a time for realism. I want to make it clear, as I have done in the past, to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) that we do not believe that nationalisation is the answer in this case. If I believed that it was, I should be arguing for it.